The "Sandoval 64," the 32 same-sex couples that were married a few months ago, celebrated the day that changed their lives, and the history of the state, Sunday afternoon with a crowd of more than 500 friends and family members.
The event, in a decked-out UNM ballroom, was tinged with mixed emotions of hope and frustration for the couples who have endured an emotional roller coaster ride since Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap issued marriage licenses to the gay couples on Feb. 20.
The reception was also attended by numerous gay couples who were not as fortunate as the 64, because state Attorney Gen. Patricia Madrid stated that the licenses were illegal, effectively ending the one-day wedding march. Still, everyone in attendance used the event as a much-needed chance to not only toast each other but to share their dreams for same-sex couple equality in New Mexico, said Katherine Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico (CENM), the event's co-sponsor.
"The horse is out of the barn," she said, adding that the unprecedented marrying of same-sex couples across the country this year is a sign that it will soon be commonplace in society. "The arguments the government makes against same-sex marriage are the same ones they used against interracial couples. That was once a big issue, but now it's accepted. I think the same thing is going to happen here."
Dunlap, who has faced severe criticism from the state GOP because of her decision to issue the licenses, has said she is considering doing it again as early as next week. Madrid's office issued a statement saying it will pursue legal action against her if she does.
Rather than focusing on the ongoing legal battles and the uphill march for civil equality, most of the couples chose to spend the day enjoying each other's love. Mary Houdek and Norma Vasquez, the first couple to receive a marriage license Feb. 20, said the entire experience has helped them solidify their love in a way they never could before. "This will continue to resonate with New Mexico's gay couples throughout time," Houdek said, holding back tears as she spoke. "But there are still many more stories like ours that have yet to be told."
The CENM, the oldest statewide organization pushing for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians, has been taking large steps in winning the equality the couples so desperately want. In 2003 the organization had a hand in the passing of the Human Rights Act at the state Legislature to include gays under the bill's umbrella of protection.
Sunday's event, co-sponsored by Lambda Legal, CENM's sister organization that works with HIV/AIDS communities across the country, was also used to introduce the Protect Our Families Campaign. The campaign organizes and finances forums and informal house parties across the state attempting to reach both the gay and heterosexual community members in an effort to break down the barriers that exist between the two.
The first forum was in Las Cruces last month and was attended by more than 150 people, said Amanda Rich, the campaign's coordinator. "This campaign will provide a place where gay couples can share with society their stories and their hopes for the future of same-sex couples in New Mexico," she said.