By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Jubilant gay and lesbian couples crowded county offices in the artsy southwestern community of Santa Fe on Friday seeking marriage licenses after a judge ruled that it would be discriminatory to deny same-sex couples the right to wed.
The New Mexico decision ended a lawsuit filed by two men, Alex Hanna and Yon Hudson, after they were refused a marriage license by the clerk of Santa Fe County earlier this year.
"It is the first time that a judge in New Mexico has determined that the constitution and laws of New Mexico require marriage equality," said Brian Egolf, a lawyer and state legislator who represented Hanna and Hudson. "We're very excited for our clients."
Thirteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
In her ruling, which was issued late Thursday, District Judge Sarah Singleton said there was nothing in New Mexico's law or constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage.
She ordered the Santa Fe county clerk, Geraldine Salazar, to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples or appear in court to explain why she shouldn't have to.
On Friday, Salazar complied. She said she had always supported gay marriage, but feared that the licenses would be considered illegal.
"I am a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage in New Mexico and have always believed that the restrictive and antiquated statutes in our state must fall to the principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution," Salazar said in a statement Friday.
Couples began gathering in her office Friday afternoon, amid cheers, laughter, tears and hugs.
In 2004, the county clerk in Sandoval County, New Mexico, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but stopped doing so after the state attorney general said gay marriage was not legal in New Mexico.
The case that prompted this week's ruling was one of several filed recently in New Mexico on the question of same-sex marriage. The state Supreme Court was initially asked to rule on them, but asked lower courts to handle them first.
Two women who sued in one of the other suits, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, were also married on Friday with a license issued in Santa Fe by Salazar.
Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman were married in the Christus St. Vincent cancer center where Roper was undergoing treatment, the ACLU said in a press release.
"We are so very happy to be officially married after 21 years together," Roper said in a statement. "Now we just ask that the courts move quickly to ensure that our marriages are fully recognized and respected by the state."
A county clerk in southern New Mexico had already begun issuing licenses in advance of the ruling.
"Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but so be it," said Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins on Wednesday. "Equal protection should apply to everyone."
He told Reuters that the first same-sex couple to obtain a license said they had waited 31 years to wed.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)