As the county clerk starts to mail absentee ballots today, Albuquerque mayoral candidates reacted to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Bernalillo County.

In a “marriage equality celebration” party he held at Sidewinders on Saturday night, Democratic mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli said he is thrilled that courts have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, making it legal in Albuquerque. Dinelli said he is glad to see other New Mexico counties follow Bernalillo’s footsteps.

“As far as what has been happening with Albuquerque, I’m extremely proud of our community,” he said. “I’m delighted to see that it appears that the dominoes are starting to fall. The clerks in the state of New Mexico are acknowledging that our laws are, in fact, not gender-specific.”

The Bernalillo County Second Judicial District Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Aug. 26, making Bernalillo the third county in the state to allow same-sex marriage. Two weeks ago, Doña Ana County approved same-sex marriage, followed by Santa Fe County. On Aug. 27, San Miguel, Valencia and Taos Counties started handing out same-sex marriage licenses.

Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Taos Counties legalized same-sex marriage by court order, whereas Doña Ana, San Miguel and Valencia Counties legalized same-sex marriage by unilateral county clerk decisions.
Dinelli said he is optimistic that soon, same-sex marriage will be legal statewide.

“I really believe that New Mexico can go ahead and become the next state that will issue marriage licenses,” he said. “What’s been happening is just fantastic. We are now realizing the true meaning of civil rights.”

And he would strive to ensure that the ruling will last in the city, he said.

“I’ve always supported … marriage equality,” he said. “Two individuals who love each other and want to enter into a marriage should be allowed to do so. I’ve been married to my wife Betty for 29 years, and I recommend marriage to anybody.”

But Dinelli’s fellow mayoral challenger Republican Paul Heh said the ruling will not stick around. Heh said that to make the ruling concrete, the U.S. Congress should get involved.

“The other side’s going to appeal it, and it’s going to be appealed, appealed, appealed,” Heh said. “The Supreme Court should not be making our laws. Congress should be making our laws, but it doesn’t stand up and do anything.”

On Thursday, seven Republican state legislators filed a lawsuit against Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples without court authorization. On the same day, county clerks in the state voted to let the New Mexico Supreme Court determine the legality of same-sex marriage in the state.

Heh said marriage is a religious concept, and that the government should not interfere with people’s religious beliefs.

“It’s just a big mess, but there’s an easy fix in my estimation,” he said. “Marriage is steeped in tradition and is steeped in religion. And I don’t think there’s any court in the land that has any business sticking their noses into a religion and telling religions how they need to act.”

Instead, he said the government should allow civil unions, which would provide “same rights and same opportunities that married couples have” to same-sex couples. That way, the religious element of marriage would not be considered, he said, and civil unions would give same-sex couples the same legal benefits, such as health care, insurance and Social Security.

“All you’re doing is changing the name,” Heh said.

Heh said he has already spoken to gay communities in Albuquerque about civil unions. He said they have deemed civil unions “acceptable as long as they have the same rights and opportunities that everybody else has.”

Although he said he is pessimistic about the ruling, Heh said he will not work to appeal it. But he said that he will work with the state government to allow civil unions statewide.

“Everybody should get the same opportunity,” he said. “Period.”
Dinelli said he congratulates Albuquerque for being a “very diverse and very tolerant city.” He said he will continue to support the ruling and the gay community in the city through events such as the annual Gay Pride Parade.

Incumbent Republican mayor Richard Berry did not respond to the Daily Lobo’s requests for comment from him about the same-sex marriage ruling.

Heh said he does not expect Berry to comment about the ruling.
“Mayor Berry is not going to comment on any hard questions,” Heh said. “He’s afraid that if he comes out one way, he’s gonna lose votes. And if he comes out the other way, he’s still gonna lose votes.”

And Heh said Dinelli is being too positive about same-sex marriage in the city.

“Knock yourself up, Pete,” Heh said, addressing Dinelli. “You know it’s not gonna stand up. I know it’s not gonna stand up.”

The deadline to register to vote for the mayoral elections is on Sept. 10. All New Mexico residents who are U.S. citizens and 18 or older ge are eligible to vote. Registrants need to provide a valid photo I.D. and a proof of residence in the state.

Key Dates:
Today – County clerk starts mailing absentee ballots
Sept. 10 – Last day to register to vote for the Oct. 8 elections
Sept. 18 – Early voting begins
Oct. 4 – Last day of early voting; last day county clerk will mail absentee ballots
Oct. 8 – Election Day; 7 p.m. deadline for absentee ballots and in-person voting