Updated 2:52 p.m., 12/19/2013
(CNN) – The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled the state may not deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry, concluding current laws are unconstitutional.
The ruling Thursday is another victory for gay and lesbian couples nationwide seeking to legally wed. New Mexico would become the 17th state plus the District of Columbia to allow such unions.
The unanimous ruling ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples.
"Barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause," of the state's constitution," said the 31-page ruling from all five state justices.
"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 ruling said.
The decision adds clarity, uniformity, and finality to an issue that had divided the state.
Before the decision, eight counties had been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in recent months. Now those marriages were affirmed to be valid and must be recognized statewide.
Supporters of same-sex marriage cheered the latest legal breakthrough.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson tweeted: "Great news in my home state!"
"The past few years have seen an amazing show of support for the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples," said Elizabeth Gill, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "Today's victory in New Mexico brings us one step closer to the day when marriage equality is a reality nationwide."
The case is Griego v. Oliver (34,306).