Gay marriage avalanche in NM: Let’s help the man who started it all

Meet the man who almost single-handedly started the gay marriage revolution in New Mexico: Doña Ana County Clerk, Lynn Ellins. He’d like a little help from us in the LGBT community and from our supporters. His courage and conviction has been directly responsible for 58.5% of all New Mexico residents now living in gay marriage equality-supporting counties.

NM Doña Ana County Clerk, Lynn Ellins (KOAT.com)

NM Doña Ana County Clerk, Lynn Ellins (KOAT.com)

Y’see, back on August 21, 2013, an elected County Clerk in the far southern county of Doña Ana decided he’d waited long enough. Or more specifically, that the gay and lesbian couples in New Mexico had waited long enough.

A little New Mexico marriage equality history…

Some background: In 2004, Sandoval County’s clerk, Victoria Dunlap (R) decided she would take matters into her own hands and, believing New Mexico state law supported her decision, began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. This resulted in several dozen marriages that remain legal even today, although the state refuses to recognize them. The courts stopped her cold, almost immediately, and her own party — the Republican party, no surprise — drummed her out of politics forever. However, the court injunctions and restraining orders at the time specifically said they were intended to be temporary, until the courts and/or the legislature came up with a permanent solution. Various proposals for domestic partnership registries, civil unions, and even full marriage equality have been proposed from time to time, but never went anywhere. As for the courts, nada.

Nearly ten years went by…

Then Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins decided enough was enough. On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, his office began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Ellins explained his rationale was based on a desire for justice for gay and lesbian couples — and impatience with the courts who’ve been refusing to deal with the matter in a timely way. (After all, ten years is a hell of a long time to be waiting for…well, nothing. And the likelihood of ‘nothing’ continuing for the foreseeable future.) Lynn Ellins also has a refreshingly straightforward way of speaking his mind.

“Let me put it this way, some people have balls, some people don’t, alright? Some of them truly believe that they need direction from on high and they’re not willing to do a constitutional analysis,” Ellins told TPM in an interview on Wednesday. “Some of them are philosophically opposed so they wouldn’t do it unless they were brought to the shed and whacked.”

Ellins estimates Doña Ana county has issued around 210 licenses so far, and (he believes) over 1,000 statewide.

Ellins, 75, noted that his interest in supporting same-sex marriage is nothing new. A non-native New Mexican, Ellins called himself a civil libertarian who identified as a “Rockefeller Republican” until 2000. (“There ain’t any of those anymore,” he noted.) (…) Ellins eventually joined the University of Colorado and became chairman of the Board of Regents in 1989. During his time on the board, in 1985, he pushed for an amendment to the university’s rules that made sexual orientation “a protected class for students, faculty and staff.” Such language is standard at colleges around the country now, but at the time, Ellins was ahead of the curve. “So I just didn’t come to this party at the end. In fact, I was at this party before it began,” he said. (…) “Nobody voted on whether I can get married, and I don’t think anybody voted on whether you can get married, and you don’t vote civil rights issues because the purpose of the 14th Amendment is to protect minorities,” Ellins said. “And people with that sexual orientation are minorities. So you don’t put that to a vote. It flies in the face of jurisprudence since the late 19th century.

Legal defense fund donations are needed

Now Lynn Ellins would like our help.

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Back on August 30th, NM State Senator (and history de-gaying hobbyist) Bill Sharer (R-Farmington) and his small pack of small-minded fellow GOP homophobes launched a court challenge. Not to stop the marriages statewide, but against Doña County and its clerk, Lynn Ellins, alone. (So far, the courts have declined to act or to issue an injunction.) As a man of impeccable ethics and sense of decency, Ellins has said he doesn’t think it’s right for the taxpayers of his county to have to foot the bill for his legal defense or the defense of his clerk’s office. For this reason, Ellins announced on the county’s Facebook page that he was going to launch a private defense fund. County Clerk Lynn Ellins and the Doña Ana clerk’s office are accepting donations through the Act Blue! umbrella organization in amounts of as little as $5. Donations can be made at EqualityDonaAnaCounty.com. I don’t know about you folks, but it sure feels like a worthy cause to me.

Accepting donations for Doña Ana County Clerk's office and Lynn Ellins, the man who started the gay marriage tsunami in New Mexico

Equality Doña Ana County is accepting donations for the County Clerk’s office and Lynn Ellins, the man who started the gay marriage tsunami in New Mexico.

A testament to County Clerk Ellins’ decision: NM Supreme Court finally acts

If not for the decision of this one man to go ahead and commit an act of bureaucratic civil disobedience, New Mexican gay and lesbians would probably still be waiting for our do-nothing legislature and glacier-slow state supreme court to move on marriage equality. Now, as a direct result, and in response to a petition from all the other county clerks, the New Mexico Supreme Court has agreed to have hearings on October 23rd.


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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