Farmington — Two same-sex Farmington couples have joined a lawsuit that aims to force New Mexico to recognize gay marriage.
The two local couples, as well as three other same-sex couples in the state, were denied marriage certificates by Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. The couples are now suing Oliver and the state of New Mexico for the right to marry.
The Farmington couples -- A.D. Joplin and Greg Gomez and Monica Leaming and Cecilia Taulbee -- joined same-sex couples from Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Jemez Springs in the lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Albuquerque and Santa Fe couples in March. The Farmington and Jemez Springs couples became plaintiffs in the lawsuit last week.
"It is indicative that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people are part of our communities in all parts of the state," said Micah McCoy, the communications director for ACLU-NM, of the three new plaintiffs from northern New Mexico. "They are part of rural communities and urban communities. ... They are part of our fabric of life in New Mexico, regardless of location."
McCoy said New Mexico is unique in that state law neither explicitly allows nor prohibits same-sex marriages.
"With this lawsuit, we are trying to have the courts confirm (that) the ability for same-sex couples to marry is already a protected right in New Mexico," he said.
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office last week released a legal analysis of same-sex marriage in New Mexico that stated gay marriage is not currently authorized under state law. But the office's report also stated New Mexico laws prohibiting same-sex marriage likely wouldn't withstand a legal challenge.
San Juan County Chief Deputy Clerk Tanya Shelby said the San Juan County Clerk's office has been asked by same-sex couples for marriage licenses, but the office has never issued one.
On Tuesday night, the ACLU-NM held a meeting at the Three Rivers Eatery and Brewhouse banquet hall, where the Farmington couples talked about the reasons they joined the lawsuit.
Joplin, 34, and Gomez, 52, have been in a relationship for seven years. Joplin is a recent college graduate who plans to continue his education, and Gomez is an interior designer. They have a 24-year-old foster child who calls both of them "dad," and they are on the board of directors of San Juan College's SafeZone, which assists local LGBT residents.
Joplin and Gomez "believe that words matter, and they believe that the word partner does not capture the love and devotion that they have for one another," the lawsuit states.
Gomez said he and Joplin have a large group of friends and supporters and are treated with respect in the community.
"But we need to demand the respect that all married couples receive," he said on Tuesday.
Leaming, 40, and Taulbee, 51, have been in a relationship for 15 years. They helped raise Taulbee's three children from a previous relationship. The children all consider Leaming a parent, and she considers them her daughters, according to the lawsuit.
Leaming is a music teacher for Farmington public schools and is the orchestra director for middle and high school students. Taulbee is the vice president of a local credit union.
Leaming and Taulbee "strongly identify as New Mexicans" and want to be married in the state, the lawsuit states.
At the ACLU meeting on Tuesday, Leaming talked about the struggle of not always being as open about her relationship as she would like.
"I am constantly scanning the horizon for threats," she said. "It's hard to put myself out there like I am today."
She hopes her record as a talented educator will thwart any backlash that may come from her suing the state for the right marry another woman.
"I'm not in a fight, I just want to show everyone I love Cecilia (Taulbee)," she said. "I know that I have a lot of parental support, and I have an excellent reputation as a teacher. I think my reputation as a teacher is more important than getting involved in this."