SANTA FE -- Two gay men from Santa Fe who were denied a marriage license this month now will try to capitalize on national momentum for their cause with an expedited, high-level lawsuit.
Alex Hanna and Yon Hudson want to marry one another, but they say New Mexico government is standing in their way without any legal basis.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar denied their application for a marriage license on June 6. Hanna and Hudson filed a lawsuit in state district court that same day challenging her decision.
The legal team helping Hanna and Hudson decided Wednesday to try to move the lawsuit to the New Mexico Supreme Court, sensing that the time is right to win the gay marriage debate in the state's highest court.
One of the attorneys representing Hanna and Hudson is state Rep. Brian Egolf. Last winter Egolf sponsored an unsuccessful bill to legalize same-sex marriages in New Mexico.
In an interview, Egolf said the state Supreme Court has a history of establishing original jurisdiction in cases of great public importance. He said the attempt by gay couples to be married fits that description.
Egolf and his law partners shifted their legal strategy because the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday gave two victories to gay rights advocates.
It ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits. The court also declined to decide a case from California, meaning that same-sex marriages effectively remain legal in America's most populous state.
Given the national developments, Egolf said the suit by Hanna and Hudson would be filed Thursday morning with the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Egolf predicted that the state Supreme Court would accept the case and rule by year's end that New Mexico couples of legal age can be married, regardless of whether they are of the same sex.
Egolf, a married man with two daughters, has been the state legislator who most aggressively pursued marriage rights for gay people.
"A lot of good things flow from treating people equally and fairly," he said.
Last winter, Egolf sponsored a bill that would have allowed New Mexico voters to decide the question of gay marriage. A committee in the House of Representatives killed his proposal on a 7-4 vote. Two Democrats joined all five Republicans on the committee to stop Egolf's bill.
Oddly enough, Martinez wants to send the question of gay marriage to New Mexico voters.
"Governor Martinez's personal views on the issue, that marriage should be between a man and woman, are well known. The U.S. Supreme Court decisions tend to indicate a desire for this issue to be decided at the state level, as opposed to the federal level. The governor believes it is most appropriate for voters -- not politicians -- to make the determination in New Mexico," said Enrique Knell, Martinez's press secretary.
Martinez's response was measured, but another opponent of gay marriage, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of the Diocese of Santa Fe, said he was disheartened.
"I am not surprised, but I am deeply disappointed regarding today's Supreme Court ruling to strike down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and failure to support California's Proposition 8. As a result, the definition of marriage has radically changed. The repercussions of the court's decision will prove to be very difficult for our society and family law," Sheehan said in a statement.
He added that the Catholic Church respects "all our brothers and sisters regardless of sexual identity. However, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe will continue to uphold and defend the biblical definition of marriage (Matthew 19:4), the sole union between one man and one woman."
Freshman U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., holds the opposite view from the archbishop's.
"The Supreme Court's rulings today mark an extraordinary moment in our fight for marriage equality. Gay and lesbian couples who accept the responsibility of marriage should have all the rights that come with that responsibility. Depriving those rights is to deprive Americans of their dignity and the promise of equal treatment guaranteed by the Constitution," Heinrich said.
Asked who would oppose the lawsuit by Hanna and Hudson in which they are seeking a marriage license, Egolf said it would be the same people who fought his proposal to legalize gay marriages. One of his opponents was Glen Strock, pastor of Pecos Valley Cowboy Church.
"The same God we ask to bless America said, 'You shall not lay with a man as with a woman. That is an abomination,' " Strock said
Egolf said no prohibition in state statutes bars same-sex couples from being married. But the state's 33 county clerks -- including Salazar of Santa Fe -- are seeking guidance from the courts or the Legislature before issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Egolf said great harm was done by government prohibitions against gay marriage. The worst of it, he said, was that children of gay couples were told that "their families didn't count as much."
He said opponents of gay marriage in the dozen states that have legalized same-sex unions have found that it did no harm.
"The sun still comes up. Life goes on," Egolf said.
But U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, said courtrooms were the wrong venue to decide who can be married.
"The Supreme Court cannot reinvent such a vital and fundamental institution as marriage -- the sacred and special union of a husband and a wife, and the foundation of the family. But yet again, unelected judges overruled the voice of the people, and rendered an activist decision to overturn a law that went through the democratic process," Pearce said.
In voting to allow federal benefits for same-sex couples, Pearce said, "Washington interests dealt another blow to the idea of government by the people."
Milan Simonich is the Santa Fe bureau chief for Texas-New Mexico Newspapers. He can be reached at or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.