FARMINGTON — As advocates for gay marriage push the issue to the fore in New Mexico and across the nation, Farmington's state legislators said they're standing firm against state recognition of same-sex unions.
Despite a rapid shift in public opinion toward greater approval of same-sex marriage, local politicians said they will continue to resist sanctioning gay relationships.
"I'm totally opposed to it," said state Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington. "Two thousand years of human history, families are built around a man and a woman, not same-sex people. It's against natural law."
State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, chided gay marriage supporters in a Twitter message shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling June 26 that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Sharer suggested gay couples resorted to the courts after failing to institute same-sex marriage through legislation.
"Sore losers who can't pass bills sue to make court rewrite marriage law since they can't do it the right way," Sharer wrote in a June 28 Twitter message. "Progressives in action!"
Sharer did not return calls seeking further comment on the statement. State Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, also could not be reached.
State Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said that heterosexual marriage predates the current legal framework.
"I'm not for changing the institution, and the institution goes way beyond even the United States and the Constitution," he said.
Strickler said decisions about gay marriage should be left to the Legislature, rather than judges.
"I do think the Legislature should decide this issue, not the courts," he said.
Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, disagreed, saying legislators shouldn't be able to vote to deny rights to a specific group.
"In this country, we don't put our fundamental rights up for a popular vote," he said. "If that's how we resolved those issues, we would still be living in a society in which public schools were segregated by race, the press could be censored by the state and criminal defendants wouldn't have a guaranteed right to counsel."
Polls show public opinion has shifted in favor of gay marriage. In May, 51 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared to 42 percent opposed, according to Pew Research Center polling. That was a reversal from 2001, when 57 percent opposed gay marriage and only 35 percent supported it.
While same-sex marriage has been the subject of public policy debate for years, the Supreme Court's recent decision has added urgency.
New Mexico is the only state with no laws or constitutional provisions that explicitly ban or recognize same-sex marriage, Simonson said.
Challenges to the state's legal limbo are mounting.
On July 2, the ACLU of New Mexico submitted a legal writ to the state Supreme Court asking for a ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the state. The court has not indicated whether it will rule on the question or reject the ACLU's move.
The ACLU is also involved in a state district court lawsuit pushing for same-sex marriage, but Simonson said the legal writ could reach a decision much faster if the state Supreme Court takes it up.
"Our state constitution grants some very special guarantees under its equal protection clause that lay the groundwork for extending that promise to same-sex couples," he said.
Strickler said the state's constitution does not permit same-sex marriage.
"When the New Mexico Constitution was adopted in the early 1900s there was no contemplation at all of same-sex marriage," he said. "The silence in the constitution isn't silent at all."