FARMINGTON — At least one Farmington same-sex couple made the six-hour drive to Las Cruces last week to get married.
Farmington residents Patty and Ashley Gunnell were married Friday at the Doña Ana County Clerk's Office. The Gunnells were one of many same-sex couples who took advantage in an abrupt shift in New Mexico policy concerning marriage laws.
Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins announced last Wednesday he was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was the first county clerk in New Mexico to do so.
A district court judge ordered the Santa Fe County Clerk to start issuing marriage licenses on Friday. And on Monday another district court judge ordered the Bernalillo County clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Tuesday.
State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, called the policy change "lawless." Sharer and other representatives are working with a legal team to find ways to force the county clerks to stop issuing the licenses, he said.
"It is up to the New Mexico State Legislature, with the consent of the Governor of New Mexico, to make laws and for county clerks and district court judges to abide by them. They do not make the laws," he said in a prepared statement. "It is inexplicable how a district court just today discovered a new definition of marriage in our laws, when our marriage law has not been changed in over a century."
Same-sex couples from around the state and the region have reportedly flocked to Doña Ana and Santa Fe County clerks' offices to receive a marriage license. The Doña Ana County Clerk's Office's Facebook page has posted dozens of pictures of same sex couples who were recently wed at the clerk's office.
Neither of the two clerk's offices issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples responded to questions about how many same-sex San Juan County couples have applied for marriage licenses.
Patty and Ashley Gunnell learned from a friend that Doña Ana County was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and decided to get married on Friday.
"God created this window for us," said Patty Gunnell, who took her wife's last name.
The couple has been in a relationship for four years, Patty Gunnell said.
For the past four years, they considered getting married in a different state that had legalized same-sex marriage but couldn't immediately afford it.
"We could have done a phony ceremony, but we didn't want that," Patty Gunnell said. "We wanted to be legally married."
And then Patty Gunnell was diagnosed with breast cancer three months ago. She is scheduled to start chemotherapy on Wednesday.
"We had to put our dreams on the sideline," Ashley Gunnell said.
Ashley Gunnell said the couple acted quickly for two reasons. First, they wanted to get married soon because of Patty Gunnell's upcoming cancer treatment program. And because they wanted to take advantage of a legal marriage for fears that the clerk's decision could be overturned and the practice suspended.
"We hope that this opens a lot of people's eyes to the fact that love is love," Ashley Gunnell said. "I hope that we're a part of something that's bigger than us."
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.