The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that same-sex marriage is legal across the state, cementing it as the 17th state to offer full marriage equality to same-sex couples. The state had been a bit of an oddity, in that it had no specific prohibition nor allowance written into law, leaving marriage equality an open question. The Court noted that although some of the marriage laws stipulate gender-specific language, preventing same-sex couples would deprive them of their rights:
We conclude that although none of New Mexico’s marriage statutes specifically prohibit same-gender marriages, when read as a whole, the statutes have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying and benefiting from the rights, protections, and responsibilities that flow from a civil marriage. Same-gender couples who wish to enter into a civil marriage with another person of their choice and to the exclusion of all others are similarly situated to opposite-gender couples who want to do the same, yet they are treated differently.
Because same-gender couples (whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, hereinafter “LGBT”) are a discrete group which has been subjected to a history of discrimination and violence, and which has inadequate political power to protect itself from such treatment, the classification at issue must withstand intermediate scrutiny to be constitutional. Accordingly, New Mexico may neither constitutionally deny same-gender couples the right to marry nor deprive them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of marriage laws, unless the proponents of the legislation—the opponents of same-gender marriage—prove that the discrimination caused by the legislation is “substantially related to an important government interest.”
The Court rejected opponents’ claims that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples somehow promoted “responsible procreation and childrearing” because procreation “has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law.” Citing Loving v. Virginia, they suggested that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was as “inappropriate” as prohibiting interracial couples from marrying. The purpose of marriage, the decision concludes, is to “bring stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their children if they choose to raise children together, and their property,” which requires no discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This designation of “intermediate scrutiny” is significant case law for the state. In the future, any law that might be used to discriminate against LGBT people would be subjected to this same scrutiny, meaning they would be similarly overturned. It’s also noteworthy that the decision specifically references how transgender people could also be subject to such discrimination. In August, the Court unanimously ruled against a Christian photographer who argued that her religious beliefs justified violating state law and refusing service to a same-sex couple.
This summer, eight different New Mexico counties began offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and this decision confirms that those marriages are legal and that such licenses are available statewide. As the 17th marriage equality state, New Mexico joins Illinois, Hawaii, New Jersey, Minnesota, Delaware, and Rhode Island, all of which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.