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The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled on December 19th that same-sex couples have the right to marry.  The court held that “barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.”  With the ruling, which takes effect immediately, New Mexico joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing same-sex unions.

The justices rejected the argument that prohibiting same-sex marriage was necessary to safeguard the government’s “interest in responsible procreation and child rearing.”  “Procreation,” wrote the court, “has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying.”

After eight of the state’s 33 counties began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples earlier this year, all 33 county clerks across the state asked the court to provide a state-wide ruling.  By October 23, 2013, when the court heard arguments in the case, over 1,400 same-sex couples had already been married in New Mexico.  The court ruled that county clerks must issue marriage licenses to couples regardless of gender, and that licenses issued to same-sex couples prior to the ruling must be recognized.

The ruling also provides that religious clergy who do not agree with same-sex marriage are not required to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples.