Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Mexico Becomes 17th Marriage Equality State

On Thursday, December 17th, the Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled on the case of Griego v. Oliver, affirming that the state constitution allows same-gender couples to marry, and making it the 17th state where civil marriage is available to all couples statewide.  According to national advocacy group Freedom to Marry, with yesterday's ruling over 38% of the U.S. population now lives in jurisdictions with civil marriage equality.

New Mexico is unusual in that -- before yesterday -- it had no law either allowing or prohibiting same-gender couples to marry.  In their decision, the justices cited a 1972 amendment to the equal protection clause, which states "equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person."  Civil marriages in the state actually began in August, when a district judge in the area including Santa Fe and Albuquerque ordered eight county clerks to begin issuing the licenses. This disparity prompted the call for a statewide case.

St. Michael & All Angels, a Believe Out Loud congregation, participated in the 2009 Albuquerque Pride parade.
Greg (Flickr user newmexico51)
Opponents claimed the state had an interest in preserving the status quo, citing the government's "overriding interest of responsible procreation and child-rearing."  In his decision, author Justice Edward L. Chavez addressed this directly, saying "Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying."

The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, which includes most of New Mexico and five counties in Texas, has been blessing same-gender relationships since January, when its bishop, the Right Rev Michael L. Vono, authorized an adapted version of the rite created by the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music and authorized by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church when it met in Indianapolis last year.

"This weekend we join with many people who celebrate the democratic process as it is exemplified in this ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court," Bishop Vono said in a prepared statement Saturday. "It is of primary importance for our state and its leaders to address the issues of equality and justice. For far too long, our gay brothers and sisters have been denied equal rights. As we move forward as a democratic society we must continue to address all issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty. "

Bishop Vono has been careful to articulate the distinction between the blessing rite and a wedding, acknowledging that the Episcopal Church is in the process of studying its overall understanding of marriage, and implying that no immediate change to current diocesan policy would occur as result of Thursday's ruling.  He described the blessing rite in the Albuquerque Journal in January as "a recognition of a commitment, which is a covenant, of two people who vow to live their lives in a monogamous relationship."

 "We live in an age where there is still a lot of judgment, still a lot of discrimination that happens within Christianity. We exclude people that are not like ourselves, he told the El Paso Times.  
"So this may be the Jesus thing to do in our age because Jesus forced the issue that no one is rejected by God and that all people are loved. And if you have two responsible people, whether heterosexual or gay, who love in a Christian way -- which is responsibly and exclusively monogamous and help each other and forgive each other -- what more can we ask for?"

"This may be the Jesus thing to do in our age"

The Right Rev. Michael Vono,
Bishop of the Rio Grande
Bishop Vono acknowledged that some clergy may not be comfortable blessing same-gender relationships, and said in his pastoral letter that no priest would be forced to do so.  "My prayer is that as a loving, compassionate and wonderfully diverse diocese, we remain bound together in Christ, and, as we grow faithfully, to respect the various theological and ecclesial differences and interpretation of Scripture, tradition and reason, which model the best of our inherited Anglican polity."

The Navajoland
Area Mission , part of which is in New Mexico, has not published an official statement on use of the blessings rite, although its bishop, the Right Rev. David Bailey, voted in favor of its adoption.  The self-governing Navajo Nation passed the Diné Marriage Act prohibiting same-gender marriages in 2005, and Deswood Tome, an advisor to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, told the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times that tribal law trumps the state ruling and no changes are currently planned.  However both Jared Touchin, who is spokesman for Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize; and Alray Nelson, founder of the Coalition for Navajo Equality, expressed to the Daily Times the possibility that the state ruling could cause tribal leaders to rethink their positions.

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