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N.M. ponders gay marriage

Counties ask state high court to rule on issue

SANTA FE — New Mexico’s 33 counties asked the state’s highest court Thursday to decide whether same-sex marriage is legal in the state and to stop the spread of lawsuits that have forced some county officials to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The New Mexico Association of Counties and clerks statewide filed a petition seeking clarity in a legal dispute that has changed rapidly in the past two weeks since a southern New Mexico clerk independently began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

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Since then, seven other counties followed, some because of court orders in response to lawsuits by same-sex couples.

More than 900 marriage licenses have been granted to gay and lesbian couples in the state, according to the lawsuit.

It remains uncertain whether the state Supreme Court will accept the case.

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‘‘The bottom line is we’re looking for a uniform answer,’’ said Steve Kopelman, general counsel for the county group. ‘‘There’s a controversy here. This is not a simple issue legally. But we’re not weighing in on the moral issue. We’re weighing in on the law.’’

State law does not explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage. However, the marriage laws — unchanged since 1961 — contain a marriage license application with sections for male and female applications. There also are references to ‘‘husband’’ and ‘‘wife.’’

The current and previous state attorneys general have said the law effectively prohibits gay marriage, although current Attorney General Gary King also has said he believes such a prohibition is unconstitutional.

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