AG King’s opinion on same-sex marriage coming Thursday

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King

State Attorney General Gary King apparently will weigh in on the issue of same-sex marriage rights in New Mexico on Thursday morning.

King declined Wednesday to say what his position will be, but said he plans a “press availability” in Albuquerque, months after a state legislator formally requested his opinion on the issue.

The New Mexico Legislature hasn’t passed any proposals to clarify state law since then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid in 2004 issued a directive that county clerks shouldn’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Madrid based her view on an application form that referred to a “male applicant” and “female applicant.”

King spokesman Phil Sisneros said Wednesday that the attorney general might not issue a formal opinion about whether state laws already allow marriage equality for gays, but he expects King to make some kind of statement.

Just because an elected official requests a formal opinion doesn’t mean the attorney general will write one, Sisneros said, noting, “It is more likely to be like an advisory, since opinions are kind of reserved for precedent-setting legal issues.”

In late March, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, wrote King to seek his legal opinion on the topic.

A few days earlier, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and City Councilor Patti Bushee had announced that they were introducing a resolution urging county clerks statewide to issue marriage licenses to any couples who seek them, regardless of gender. The Santa Fe City Council later adopted that measure, affirming City Attorney Geno Zamora’s argument that the state’s statutory definition of marriage 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,” reads a memo from Zamora earlier this year.

Clerks, however, are operating under the 2004 directive from Madrid. That year, the Sandoval County clerk issued marriage licenses to 64 same-sex couples, but Madrid ordered the clerk to stop the practice and said the licenses weren’t valid. King’s only opinion so far on the topic was issued last year, when he wrote that valid same-sex marriages in other states are valid in New Mexico.

Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar has said she won’t change the practice in her office unless there’s a shift in direction from state officials.

Whatever King has to say this week, Sisneros said, the issue won’t be put to rest. The outcome of both a pending U.S. Supreme Court case and a state District Court case will be more significant, he said. “In New Mexico, an attorney general’s opinion does not have the force of law. That’s in the constitution,” he said. “The courts are really the final word.”

King is one of two Democrats who have declared their candidacy for governor in 2014, seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who has said she believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman and would sign a bill that defined marriage that way in New Mexico. State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has also said she will run for governor.

Coss joined other mayors from around the country in staging a joint media teleconference Wednesday with a group called Respect for Marriage Coalition, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state bans against same-sex marriage and to trumpet the city’s recent action.

“We think it is really very important for our city and for our economy to continue to celebrate our diversity and our inclusiveness as a 400-year-old community,” Coss said, adding that he believes the New Mexico courts will resolve the issue in the “not so distant future” to make the state the 13th with marriage equality.

Steve Terrell contributed to this report.

Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or jgrimm@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.