New Mexico joined 16 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage on Thursday when the state's Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to deny gay couples the right to wed.
The court's ruling came after eight counties in the state began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in August. The justices were asked to clarify whether or not the marriages were recognized by the state.
Though New Mexico state attorneys general have stated that current law prohibits gay marriage, the original statutes don't specifically say whether same-sex marriage is legal or not, The Associated Press reports. A marriage license application created in 1961 contains sections for male and female and references to "husband" and "wife," and historically was the basis for denying licenses to same-sex couples, the AP says.
Denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples was deemed unconstitutional earlier this year when a state district court judge cited a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination "on account of the sex of any person." County clerks in the state appealed to get the gay marriage question answered by the state's Supreme Court once and for all.
"We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law," the justices wrote in the decision.