Voices Behind the Vote - Part 11: Family Values

Oct 31, 2012

Norma Vazquez and Mary Houdeck in their Rio Rancho home.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the KUNM News team has been exploring the lives and politics of  New Mexicans- in frank and intimate conversations.

This next installment in the KUNM Voices Behind the Vote series took us to visit with a couple in Rio Rancho.  Marriage equality for same-sex couples is the number one issue for them this year.

When Mary Houdeck and Norma Vazquez went on their first date in the late 1980s marriage for same sex couples was like a fantasy dream for many in the gay and lesbian community. 

They commuted back and forth between Las Cruces and El Paso for a year and then Mary asked Norma to marry her, even though they couldn't do so legally.  Norma wondered when exactly it was that Mary fell in love with her. 

"She said it was when I shared a jalapeno with her," Norma laughs, "and I said, well, you were kind of looking at it and drooling, so I thought I'd share." 

"I'm a true South Dakotan," Mary responds, "The way to my heart is through my stomach."  

Surrounded by friends and colleagues in the tight knit LGBT community in Las Cruces, Mary and Norma committed to living the rest of their lives together. The two women spend a lot of time in their lush backyard garden.  A recent cold snap has shriveled many of the plants including the green tomatillos.

Green tomatillos from Mary and Norma's garden.

In 2004, the Sandoval County Clerk approved marriage licenses for over 5 dozen same sex couples, saying the state law on marriage did not specify gender.  Mary and Norma had gone down immediately to get one and were told they could take their time to plan a wedding, even invite their families who had long since accepted their relationship. 

But within hours, the New Mexico attorney general issued an opinion that the licenses were invalid, and the two women were married hastily that same night in order to squeak in under the wire. 

"I felt like I was 16," Mary remembers,"Running away to get married without the family."

"We had been together 17 years," Norma adds, " we are going to live and love no matter what.  I sat and looked at that piece of paper. I just could not believe we were actually having a civil marriage."

In a recent court ruling, a state district judge found a same sex marriage license issued in 2004 to be valid under state law.  But the marriages of the 64 same sex couples who got licenses that day are not recognized by the federal government or in many other states.  That's what drove Mary and Norma to vote early for President Barack Obama this year.  

But ack in 2008, Mary didn't feel this way, so much so that she didn't vote for a presidential candidate. "I actually was not in favor of Barack Obama at that point," she explains," I didn't agree with his stance on gay politics and some other issues.  I was a brokenhearted Hillary supporter. But this election, I did vote for Barack Obama because he's come out positive on the issues I care about.  He's proven himself to me."

Norma agrees with her wife's analysis of President Obama's first term. "With the strike of a pen he gave fed employees equal rights. I cried that the first sitting president affirmed gay and lesbian families."

And Mary says she's concerned about the way Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk about religion and government as if they were one and the same. She says it infringers on her rights, her life, and her relationship.  "And that makes me angry.  I will be angry until this is settled and resolved, because I have a family and I love my family and those that are in association with us love us, too.  I have the same family values anyone else does."

Mary and Norma's cat, Boo.

Norma and Mary's four kids agree- Boo, Mochi, Aspen, and Chicago. The four cats sprawl over sofas and under coffee tables.  It's very clear they know this is their family.