Constitution requires equal treatment

The escalating movement toward equal marriage rights for all had another date with history this week.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments on whether the state constitution allows for marriage between same-gender couples. The argument by supporters of gay marriage is tied to New Mexico’s Equal Rights Amendment, which requires equal protection for all.

What began with one county clerk issuing licenses is now before the high court for a decision on whether same-sex marriage will become legal statewide.

Eight New Mexico counties are allowing same-sex marriage.

So historic were these arguments, that for the first time, the court allowed live-streaming from the hearing.

For the more than 900 couples who have married since a Dona Ana County clerk began issuing licenses to any two people in love back in August, the wait to hear the decision of the court will be excruciating.

Their families, their future, their property rights and their ability to be considered equal partners in the eyes of the state — all of these will be in limbo until a decision is issued.

It is fitting that the state’s highest court step in. Over the decades, New Mexico’s Legislature never could do much with the issue of marriage — whether trying to pass laws forbidding gay marriage, supporting marriage for one man and one woman, or seeking constitutional amendments to decide the subject.

Near agreements on allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships did not make it out of the Legislature, either.

With the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, establishing federal protection for couples in states that allow gay marriage, the issue of such unions took on added importance this year.

Without the right to marry, New Mexico families will lose out on important federal benefits and protections.

As a state with military bases and national scientific laboratories, too many of our neighbors could be harmed. Not only would they lose equal protection in state, they would be treated differently than other gay couples in other states.

For now, those families must wait. Equality has proved elusive, but remains in sight, just around the corner.

Soon, perhaps not this month, but surely this year, all New Mexico families will be treated equally under the law, just as our constitution requires.

 — The Santa Fe New Mexican

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