LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The New Mexico State Supreme Court unanimously declared state marriage laws as being unconstitutional making New Mexico the 17th state in the country to legalize gay marriage.
The ruling comes after the court heard two cases out of Northern New Mexico in October after the issue heated up when Dona Ana County was the first in the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to all couples regardless of gender.
"Not surprised but relieved," said Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins. "It's been a long time since we started all this."
Ellins made the bold decision to issue marriage licenses to all applicants on August 21, and his office has since issued more than 420 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After almost four months, the estimated 1600 gay couples in New Mexico have finally had their rights validated.
In the ruling justice Edward Chavez wrote:
"Instead, "civil marriage" shall be construed to mean the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. In addition, all rights, protections, and responsibilities as a result from that martial relationship shall apply equally to both same-gender and opposite-gender couples."
"I was so elated,"said Ric Rao after hearing the court's ruling. "It's really official now, it's wonderful."
Ric Rao and his partner John Schuster have been together for more than 43 years.
The two legally married on August 21, 2012, and were one of the first couples to receive marriage licenses from Ellins' office.
With the striking of the Defense of Marriage Act, couples like Rao and Schuster have the same federal rights as any other married couple.
"We don't ask for anything special," Schuster said. "All we ask for is the same rights that everyone else has."
Ellins was also in the middle of a lawsuit filed a group of Republican lawmakers arguing he had overstepped his authorizing and was in violation of the state constitution.
With the Supreme Court ruling that lawsuit is over.
Ellins said he plans on donating the money collected for his defense to the appropriate charities.