Dear Justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court:
Thank you for hearing the arguments regarding same-sex marriage on October 23th, 2014. I am grateful that you will help resolve this issue once and for all in New Mexico, our home.
As a proud New Mexican, a gay man in a committed relationship, and a recovering attorney, I write to you not from the legal aspects of this case but from the personal aspects. You heard all the legal arguments you needed at the hearing last week. And you must decide this case on the law as it stands. But I write you now to talk about the human side of these cases before you, and what effects your ruling will have on citizens of our State. Emotions may not play a huge part in a legal case, but I would just like you to consider the emotional, practical and day-to-day effects your ruling will have.
I was born in Albuquerque, attended New Mexico State University and George Washington University Law School. My first job out of law school was creating and administering a legal program for people with AIDS in Washington, D.C. There wasn’t much in the way of law protecting people with AIDS or their relationships back then, so we had to create it. It was an amazing opportunity for a new attorney. But it was also incredibly difficult because I knew that every one of my clients would be dead in less than a year. I saw so much heartache and so many terrible situations because marriage was not an option for a gay couple. They could not have the same legal protections, and when one of the couple died from AIDS, biological families would swoop in and just take everything, no matter what the arrangement was between the deceased and his surviving partner. Powers of attorneys and last wills helped, but could not solve everything by any means. By the time the Will was put into probate, the family had made funeral arrangements and disposed of many parts of the decedent’s estate - leaving the survivor literally on the street at times. Oftentimes the funeral arrangements were quite contrary to what the person wanted, including unwanted religious services based on the family’s beliefs, not the decedent or his partner. These clients of mine did not have the option of marriage in the 1980s, it was back then quite a far-fetched concept. But now? Now you have within your power to right these situations that still exist. While people do not die of AIDS as much as they used to, people die of various other causes. And LGBT people are generally not able to control their own death situations (i.e. funeral arrangements, real estate, joint property, etc.) or that of their surviving spouse/partner’s without having a legally recognized relationship.
Imagine being denied access to your partner who has a medical emergency because under the eyes of the law, you are a ‘stranger’ to him or her. Imagine not being able to pick up one of your kids at school because your relationship isn’t recognized. Imagine even trying to hire a photographer for a reception you were having after getting married in a state where same-sex marriage was legalized, only to have them turn you down - you don’t actually have to imagine it because you ruled on such a case earlier this year. With marriage equality, all of these issues go away. And people can simply go about living their lives without having to face this fear and rejection.
Marriage - legal marriage - offers 1138 federal benefits. Once the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal DOMA law, the Obama administration stated that same-sex couples who are legally married in a jurisdiction that recognizes such marriages will be granted the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. Social Security, joint tax returns, Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, workers’ compensation, exemption from estate taxes, ERISA benefits, and so many others - I won’t bore you with the details. I will, however, point out that your decision will ultimately affect same-sex couples residing in New Mexico. Even couples from other states who choose to come here and get married, and whether their state recognizes the marriage or not, will have their marriages recognized by the federal government. You have the power to create a truly equal society in New Mexico, make us one of the states plus DC that recognize same-sex marriages, and most of all help couples like my fiance and I to receive not only federal benefits, but benefits from the State of New Mexico and just as importantly, societal recognition as well.
Society looks upon marriage as a major milestone in a person’s life. And for far too long, LGBT people were kept from this milestone. Our relationships did not come with the instant societal acceptance that a marriage provides. I am so anxious to say the words “My husband” and KNOW that they actually mean something - that our relationship, our union, is blessed by the place where we live. We want all those same-sex couples with children have BOTH of their parents recognized in the school systems. We want the big and small weddings, the honeymoons, the societal support that comes with getting engaged and getting married. The day same-sex marriage became legal in Bernalillo County, I asked my partner to marry me. I was lucky enough that he said yes, and our wedding is on July 5, 2014. And we would be thrilled, especially me with my legal background, if one of you would consent to perform our marriage ceremony. The day after I asked him, we flew to see his family in Washington State, which just last year had voted to ALLOW same-sex marriages. I was hoping we could get married at home, in New Mexico, where we live, but I was prepared to ask him while in Washington. Imagine how thrilled I was to see - very suddenly - same-sex marriages being allowed in New Mexico! Upon our arrival in Washington, my fiance’s parents had told everyone of our upcoming nuptials. Every last person we met congratulated us and were thrilled for us, especially upon learning that we could get married at home, our home together, back in New Mexico. And since we got engaged, we have received so many congratulations here in New Mexico that our hearts are warm and joyous. I cannot WAIT for our wedding to take place because I am so ready to say those words, “I Do”, and to hear them said back to me. My only sadness is my mom passed away early this year, and I would have loved for her to have been at my wedding. I still cry when I see the Christmas card she gave to my fiance which said, “Love, Sally”. My mom was raised catholic and kept her faith until the end. She struggled with my being gay. But she gradually came to accept it, and accept my relationship and even come to love the person with whom I have chosen to spend my life. Had she lived to see all these couples getting married, sharing their love, their lives and their problems, their every day living, she would have wanted that for me as well. And I know that in her heart, your ruling allowing same-sex marriage would make her love for both of us even stronger - she often told me she wished I could have gotten married. Maybe this wasn’t what she had in mind at first, but this would have given her the strength and emotional acceptance to be so very happy for both of us.
Emotionally, this is the happiest time of my life because I can finally get married to the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. And there are over 1200 couples who, since August, 2013 when the Dona Ana County Clerk began issuing licenses, have chosen to get married. Many of them were from out of state, and flew in or drove from long distances specifically to get married. Every one of these couples can now enjoy all of those marriage benefits, but equally importantly, have the safety and security and love and joy that comes from being married.
An adverse decision would obviously put these marriages into a tenuous state, with the couples not knowing whether they were still married or not. The emotional harm this would wreak is heart wrenching to say the least. Eight counties have been granting these licenses, most under court order. 1200 couples have gotten married. Should you find that NM law does not allow for same-sex couples, I just want you to please understand the devastating effects this ruling would have on the already married couples as well as engaged couples such as my fiance and I.
On the other hand, should you decide that NM law does indeed support same-sex marriage in New Mexico, on the day of your ruling, you will literally see celebrations in the streets. You will see the joy, the shared love, the excitement, and yes, even the nervousness, of an entire group of people that somehow, some way, just became an equal part of the greater society. Your actions will clear the way for even more weddings to take place, for New Mexico to become one of the leaders in this area. You will have the gratitude and devotion of a disenfranchised group of people that your ruling has helped. Many may disagree on religious or other grounds, but they will have had their day in court and they lost. That is how our system works. And as the highest court in our fair state, please know that you will have my personal gratitude, as well as my fiance’s, to no bounds, as well as the love and warmth of an entire segment of the population that calls New Mexico “home”.
My apologies for the length of this letter. But I wanted to give you a feel for what we as a couple, and the LGBT population of New Mexico, are waiting for with baited breath, are hoping for, are ready for, and are so excited for - a ruling stating that our marriages ARE legal and that LGBT people can get legally married in every corner of our fair state.
Your honors, thank you for your indulgence and we await your ruling.
Mauro A. Montoya, Jr., Esq.