Gay marriage group important step forward

New Mexicans are still waiting for a decision from the state Supreme Court on whether same-sex marriages are legal in New Mexico. The court heard oral arguments in October, but no ruling has been issued. Considering the legal issues and writing the decision takes time, obviously.

Even so, supporters of marriage equality are not simply waiting to hear the court’s decision. Recently, they announced the formation of the New Mexico Unites for Marriage group, an organization that will be ready to advocate for the rights of families no matter how the court rules.

Some 1,500 couples have married in New Mexico since a handful of counties began issuing licenses back in August; eight counties now issue the licenses, that allow all couples the freedom to marry.

Heading the advocacy group are former Gov. Gary Johnson, once a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from Albuquerque.

This bipartisan movement is important. The best defense, as they say, is a strong offense. Many expect the court to legalize same-sex marriage; the New Mexico Constitution demands equal protection for all, and the U.S. Supreme Court has already struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

New Mexico’s Supreme Court last summer ruled that a photographer cannot refuse to take pictures of a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony, perhaps foreshadowing a court decision on marriage equality.

But backers of the right to marry are no dummies. They will take nothing for granted. They know that conservatives in New Mexico will not leave a court ruling unchallenged.

They are expected to turn to the Legislature, perhaps to seek a law protecting so-called traditional marriage. People who do not want gay marriage in New Mexico likely will try to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot limiting marriage to one man, one woman.

This is a right that will have to be protected going forward.

What’s more, we anticipate conservative backlash against the judiciary, as happened in Iowa when the court approved same-sex marriage there. Justices and District Court judges could face tougher retention battles.

New Mexico has been fortunate that our judicial races are non-partisan and generally lacking in nastiness. Democrats generally win statewide, but that’s a party designation rather than an indication of activism or liberalism.

We would favor nonpartisan judicial races to take the politics out of the equation. Even with partisan elections, New Mexico judges and justices tend to be ones who focus on law and precedent, rather than legislating from on high.

Should a ruling go in favor of marriage equality, the Supreme Court would be following the state Constitution.

This group might be unnecessary. Given the backlash against equality that surely is forming, though, it’s a smart step toward preserving the rights of all New Mexico families.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican