FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Clerk's Office gave its first marriage license to a same-sex couple on Thursday afternoon.

Three hours later, Aztec women Luciana Velasquez and Deann Toadlena were married under Christmas lights at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington.

The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized gay marriage throughout the state on Thursday. It didn't take long for the decision to reach San Juan County.

"We've been waiting for seven years. It's the best day of my life," said Toadlena, who plans to change her last name to Velasquez. "Everything I wanted was given to me today."

Luciana Velasquez said the couple have been in a relationship for eight years and have had a commitment ceremony.

Luciana Velasquez, left, and Deann Toadlena were married at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington. The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized gay marriage
Luciana Velasquez, left, and Deann Toadlena were married at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington. The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized gay marriage throughout the state on Thursday. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

On Thursday, they felt vindicated.

"It means a lot. Everything we have gone through, I finally feel like there's nothing you can say to me," Velasquez said. "I have legal standing."

In a unanimous decision, the New Mexico Supreme ruled in a 31-page opinion published Thursday that "all rights, protections, and responsibilities that result from the marital relationship shall apply equally to both same-gender and opposite-gender married couples."

The ruling made New Mexico the 17th state to legalize gay marriage. Same-sex couples can now obtain marriage licenses at all county clerk's offices in the state.

Velasquez said a legal marriage will put an end to many obstacles she and Toadlena have faced in recent years. Toadlena has an autoimmune disease and diabetes, and her health has deteriorated in recent years. Velasquez said their relationship was downplayed every time they went to a hospital, and she couldn't learn about Toadlena's health.

"Any time there was a change in condition or a change in how she was responding to treatment, (doctors) wanted to speak to a blood relative," Velasquez said. "I felt like I was pushed aside."

Toadlena said her health problems were one of the reasons the couple acted quickly to get married.

"I don't know how long I have left here," Toadlena said. "She's not my girlfriend, she's not my partner, she's my wife. I want her to make the decisions for me when I can't make them on my own."

The couple raised a 7-year-old daughter, Carrie Velasquez.

"I wanted to be a complete family," Toadlena said. "I've got a baby and a wife ... and that's what I wanted."

There were six New Mexico same-sex couples, including Farmington couples Monica Leaming and Cecilia Taulbee and Greg Gomez and A.D. Joplin, who filed the lawsuit in March 2013 that resulted in Thursday's state Supreme Court ruling.

Luciana Velasquez, left, places a ring on Deann Toadlena’s finger on Thursday as minister Alisha Martinelli smiles in the background at Orchard Park
Luciana Velasquez, left, places a ring on Deann Toadlena's finger on Thursday as minister Alisha Martinelli smiles in the background at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington. Velasquez and Toadlena were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license from the San Juan County Clerk after the New Mexico Supreme Court legalized gay marriage throughout the state on Thursday. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

"I feel proud of what we've done. ... Everyone will have equality," said Leaming, an orchestra director for the Farmington Municipal School District. "I'm really proud to be a New Mexican today."

Earlier this year, eight county clerks started to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. All 33 county clerks in New Mexico then asked the state Supreme Court to issue a statewide ruling on the matter.

The court's ruling validates the hundreds of same-sex couples who received a marriage license from one of those eight clerks, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

Justice Edward Chavez wrote the opinion for the court. The court disagreed with arguments against legalizing same-sex marriage, which included the state's interest in procreation and family stability.

"Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidence by the fact that the aged, the infertile, and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying," Chavez said in the opinion.

He also said the court couldn't consider religious beliefs in making its ruling.

"We fail to see how depriving committed same-gender couples, who want to marry and raise families, of federal and state marital benefits and protections will result in responsible child-rearing by heterosexual couples," Chavez wrote.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, has been a vocal critic of gay marriage. He said he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

"The real purpose of marriage is to keep moms and dads together to raise children," he said. "That's why the state has a compelling interest to be involved in marriage. Without that, there's no reason for the state to be involved in marriage. ... Why get married?"

Sharer said the state has an interest in keeping marriage between a man and a woman because children raised in traditional environments are more likely to be successful than children raised in non-traditional households.

"People have been denied the chance to have a say in their own culture," Sharer said of the court's ruling. "Creating another example (of marriage) that's not the prime example doesn't help us."


Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.