BY BARRY MASSEY AND RUSSELL CONTRERAS
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico became the latest state to legalize gay marriage Thursday as its highest court declared it is unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Justice Edward L. Chavez said in a ruling that none of New Mexico's marriage statutes specifically prohibits same-gender marriages, but the state's laws as a whole have prevented gay and lesbian couples from marrying. The justices said same-sex couples are a discrete group that has been subjected to a history of discrimination and violence.
"Accordingly, New Mexico may neither constitutionally deny same-gender couples the right to marry nor deprive them of the rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage laws, unless the proponents of the legislation — the opponents of same-gender marriage — prove that the discrimination caused by the legislation is 'substantially related to an important government interest,'" Chavez wrote.
New Mexico joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage either through legislation, court rulings or voter referendums.