Placitas resident Carolyn Van Housen was feeling pretty optimistic following Wednesday morning’s live stream of the state Supreme Court discussion over the legality of same-sex marriages in New Mexico.
“It was wonderful to be around so many like-minded people, professional people who have worked so hard to bring this day to fruition. It was triumphant,” she said. Van Housen and her domestic partner, Gail Gerling, filed a lawsuit against the Sandoval County Clerk’s Office in an effort to obtain a marriage license.
About 70 people — all apparently supporters of same-sex unions, based on their reactions to the hearing — gathered in a room at the Inn of the Governors at 9 a.m. Wednesday to watch the live stream from the state court building right across the street on Don Gaspar Avenue. The five-member court gave KOAT-TV permission to broadcast the hearing.
Before the hearing began, Peter Simonson, executive director of the state’s ACLU, told the assembly at the Inn of the Governors that although the court was not expected to issue a decision Wednesday, the hearing would provide “tea leaves of where we are going.”
The viewers watched with respect as the five justices questioned the only in-court opponent, attorney James Campbell, who represents the Christian-led Alliance Defending Freedom. Many of the viewers laughed when the judges appeared to point out inconsistencies in Campbell’s argument — as when he suggested that same-sex marriages tend to discourage opposite-sex marriages, or when he said that marriage is a union designed for procreation.
When Campbell told the judges that state statute’s Chapter 40 — which deals with marriage — refers specifically to a union between husband and wife, thus suggesting two members of the same sex cannot marry, one woman in the viewing room turned to her partner and asked, “Do you want to be the husband?”
When Albuquerque attorney Maureen Sanders, who represents same-sex couples, told the court that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry is a violation of the New Mexico Constitution, the Inn of the Governors crowd let out a roar of approval littered with enthusiastic applause.
And as justice Charles Daniels told Campbell that the real debate is not one of legality but of religion, the crowd ate it up. “Go Daniels!” several of the viewers shouted.
The Web stream stopped several times, annoying viewers. Once it went down for more than a few minutes, and one woman said it was a deliberate effort to disrupt the streaming via a power outage. That led another woman to joke, “Blame it on the gays and lesbians. We do plagues and hurricanes and power outages.”
When the stream did play, the microphones in the courtroom often magnified the sound of coughing people, clinking glasses and banging noises, jolting listeners. Sometimes the jerky video frames did not quite align with the verbal interplay between the participants in court.
Though some expected protesters and opponents of same-sex marriage to show up at the courthouse, none seemed to materialize — or perhaps they simply did not announce themselves. Several state troopers who were on hand to monitor the proceedings said there were no signs of trouble during the morning hearing.
Six same-sex couples, represented by the national ACLU, the state ACLU and other groups, filed a suit against the state and against the Santa Fe and Bernalillo County clerks, seeking approval to legally marry. New Mexico’s constitution neither outlaws nor legalizes such unions, which is why the issues has come before the state court.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Sanders, during a news conference, said the Supreme Court does not set timelines or deadlines for issuing decisions. “It could be several months,” she said.
Van Housen said that while she is feeling optimistic, she’s aware that even if the Supreme Court sides with same-sex advocates, other challenges could arise from the legislative or executive branches of the state government. “It’s not over, even if they go ahead and support our cause now,” she said.
New Mexicans Kitty Randall and Elizabeth Godfrey, who wed in Iowa two years ago, also watched Wednesday’s stream at the Inn of the Governors. Randall said the state justices “asked a lot of sharp questions and were obviously deeply invested in finding the right solution to this whole issue. … What we chiefly want is an affirmation of the act that our marriage in Iowa is accepted and recognized here. I can’t believe that my home state would deny us this. I feel that fairness and justice have to prevail here.”
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.