The Santa Fe City Council chambers erupted into applause and cheers Wednesday night after the council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality for gays in New Mexico.
A couple of dozen opponents of the measure remained in their seats.
There was a standing room-only crowd for the vote. The Santa Fe Fire Department had to bar the doors before the meeting started, leaving many to watch the proceedings from the hallway. Many in attendance wore red to symbolize their support for marriage equality. Others sported yellow stickers, representing the Equality New Mexico organization, or pink felt hearts that said “All Families Matter.” A smaller group held pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe or wore stickers that said “Life and Family are Sacred.” No public testimony was permitted before the vote.
The resolution, which passed by a 5-3 vote (including two abstentions), doesn’t have any effect on state rules and practices.
Earlier this year, the Doña Ana County clerk and a Mesilla Park state representative asked state Attorney General Gary King to issue a ruling on whether county clerks in the state can legally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. King’s decision is pending.
But City Attorney Geno Zamora argued in a memo this spring that the definition of marriage in New Mexico’s statutes is gender-neutral. “Since New Mexico does not define marriage as between a man and a woman, and since New Mexico does not prohibit same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage is permitted in New Mexico,” he wrote.
The resolution urges both the attorney general and county clerks to recognize that state law already allows the freedom to marry, regardless of gender, Zamora said.
Peter Ives and Bill Dimas, who abstained, both cited their Catholic faith in comments before the roll call and said they do not believe the council has standing to make a policy on the issue. The third “no” came from Councilor Chris Rivera, who said his vote was partly based on believing in “traditional families with traditional values.”
Councilors Ron Trujillo and Carmichael Dominguez, both members of local Roman Catholic parishes, voted in favor of the resolution.
Trujillo, a married father of two who was born and raised in Santa Fe, gave an impassioned speech after he seconded a motion from Councilor Chris Calvert to approve the measure.
“I was brought up by loving parents and loving grandparents not to hate,” Trujillo said. “It amazes me — I don’t want to bring in religion, I really don’t — but that has been thrown at me every single day since this has been brought up, that I’m a bad Catholic and that I’m going to be in Purgatory burning in hell.”
Later, he said, “What I’m trying to say is I just feel that everybody should be afforded the opportunity that I was afforded to get married and live happily in this city … the city of Holy Faith.”
Mayor David Coss, who introduced the measure with Councilor Patti Bushee, said he was proud of the city.
“I did not take a religious oath when I took this office,” he said before the vote. “I took an oath to represent everybody in the city and to uphold the constitution.”
(Coss didn’t vote on the resolution because under council rules, the mayor only votes to break a tie.)
Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, a native of Mississippi who was a child there when public schools were racially integrated in the 1950s, said she opposed the “unnecessarily divisive” manner in which the measure was brought up — it was announced at a hastily planned news conference. But she said she backed the idea because of “the painful truth” that gays are not equal under the law.
Bushee, the city’s only openly gay councilor, noted that she’s been accused of promoting a personal agenda, but she said she believes she was elected to “protect the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens of Santa Fe.”
“Everyone — with no exception — should be treated with dignity and respect,” she said, adding later that she, too, was raised Catholic. “The freedom to marry will be coming soon across the nation. The time has come to support all of our community. Let’s be on the right side of history.”
Dimas said he abstained from voting because the city should focus on issues such as crime and drugs. He noted that he’s both a “lifelong Catholic” and the father of a gay stepson.
“I have several friends who are gay, and I don’t have a problem with any of them getting married if it’s legal,” he said. “The problem I have with this resolution is I don’t feel the City Council has any business getting involved in an issue that is being decided right now by the United States Supreme Court.”
Dimas said the resolution has “done nothing more than polarize our community.”
Ives listed state and federal laws, judicial opinions and other rulings and studies on discrimination, adoption, child custody, marriage and other issues that he reviewed before making his decision. Then he noted that he would not vote and that he hoped other authorities would soon make a determination on the issue.
The official marriage contract in New Mexico is recorded by the county clerk, which means the city has no jurisdiction in the matter. County clerks are still operating under a 2004 directive from then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid that ordered them not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further complicating matters is a 2011 opinion issued by King saying that New Mexico must consider valid all same-sex marriage licenses granted in other states, just the way it honors other marriage licenses.
The state Legislature has failed to pass a measure to either ban gay marriage or to affirm it during recent lawmaking sessions, but state courts are set to hear the issue soon because of a lawsuit filed by two lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses this spring.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.