New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has said he won't intervene against a county clerk who on Wednesday began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

More than 40 couples rushed to the Dona Ana County Clerk's office after Clerk Lynn Ellins announced that he would begin issuing the licenses.

Ellins said in a statement that he had concluded that the “state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.”

“One of the first couples that came in today said they had been waiting 31 years. Another couple says they've been waiting 43 years. It's time to stop waiting,” Ellis is quoted as saying by the AP. “It's been a happy office. Lots of happy people.”

The surprise move came as several legal challenges make their way through the courts.

In filings to those cases, King, a Democrat who is planning a bid for governor, called New Mexico's prohibition unconstitutional.

“[W]e feel like our position that the law is unconstitutional presents a barrier to us from bringing any action,” King said on Wednesday.

King also cautioned that such marriage licenses could become invalid if the state Supreme Court later rules that such unions are not allowed.

“It leaves the state in an uncertain position,” King said. “I think there's still some risk that there will be some people who think they are married when they aren't”

Dona Ana County is the second county in the nation to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of state officials since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of gay couples.

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania has issued roughly 135 licenses to gay couples in the last month. The state has gone to court to stop the county from issuing additional licenses.

(Related: County official calls Pennsylvania's gay marriage ban “arbitrary.”)

In 2004, a Sandoval County clerk issued licenses to 64 gay couples. Those licenses were later deemed invalid.

In a separate but related development, a New Mexico lesbian suffering a life-threatening form of brain cancer on Wednesday asked a state court to let her legally marry her partner of 21 years.

(Related: Lesbian suffering from brain cancer asks New Mexico court to let her marry.)