ALBUQUERQUE — A New Mexico county clerk began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Wednesday in a surprise move that came as several challenges make their way through the courts to determine if gay marriage is legal in the state.
Couples began arriving at the clerk’s office in the border town of Las Cruces soon after learning of the announcement by Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins.
‘‘I was in a coffee shop grading dissertations when my partner sent me an e-mail saying, ‘You want to get married?’ ’’ said Char Ullman, 51. ‘‘I went home to brush my teeth and headed to the courthouse.’’
Ellins said in a statement that he carefully read New Mexico laws and concluded the state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.
Ellins said he had been considering issuing the licenses since June, when New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a position paper saying state laws do not allow same-sex marriage. King had asked county clerks to hold off on issuing licenses.