LOS LUNAS, N.M. –– New Mexico's bishops asserted that the state legislature is the best group to decide whether same-sex marriage should be permitted in the state.
The issue "is one that is best decided through the legislative branch of government," the bishops said in an Aug. 21 statement.
The statement was prompted by the announcement the same day by Lynn Ellins, county clerk of Dona Ana County – home to Las Cruces, the state's second-biggest city – that his office would start issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
In the week following, two state district judges ordered the county clerks in the counties encompassing Albuquerque and Santa Fe to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The judge in the Albuquerque case declared that same-sex marriage was legal. Three other county clerks said they would start issuing marriage licenses as well without a court directive.
"The legislative process – and the judicial, to a lesser degree – at the state government not only allows appropriate public debate on the issue but provides definitive legal direction for the state," said the New Mexico bishops in their statement.
"We, the Catholic bishops of New Mexico reiterate our previous statement on same-sex marriage: 'The tradition of marriage between one man and one woman comes to us not only from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but it has been witnessed in cultures throughout the world for many millennia.'"
The bishops added: "We believe this institution of marriage to be 'unique and irreplaceable,' for 'only does the sexual union of a man and woman bring forth children.'"
Signing the statement were Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe and Bishops James S. Wall of Gallup and Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces.
Bishop Cantu issued a separate statement after a church within the borders of his diocese started conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies.
"We have seen in the news recently that Holy Family Church of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion in Las Cruces, N.M., has been performing weddings for same-sex couples," Bishop Cantu said in an undated "notice to parishioners" on the homepage of the diocesan website Aug. 26. "This has been confusing for some since this community includes the designation 'Catholic' in its title."
Bishop Cantu added, "I wish to clarify that the Holy Family Church of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces nor is it in communion with Rome, with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter. As such, I have no authority over their worship, beliefs or practices."