Last-minute rewrite wasn’t enough to convince opponents
SANTA FE, N.M. — The state Senate rejected a bill creating domestic partnerships in New Mexico, with opponents contending it was "marriage in disguise."
Supporters of the bill did a last-minute rewrite to remove references that could be construed as marriage-related, but that wasn’t enough to win the necessary votes.
Ten Democrats joined the chamber’s 15 Republicans to defeat the bill 25-17.
"I’m disappointed by the Senate’s actions today in defeating what is fundamentally an issue of civil rights and equality," said Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been pushing the legislation for several years.
The bill has gotten snared in the Senate for the past couple of years, although the House has passed it previously.
It would have allowed gay or straight unmarried couples to register as domestic partners and have the same legal protections and benefits as married couples.
There are still three weeks left in the legislative session, but it appeared unlikely the measure could be revived.
"If you’re mad, you should be mad," Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, told a dejected crowd outside the Capitol. "The people in this building said you are not equal, you are not worthy, you do not deserve the same rights as most of them have."
Siegle said religious groups were influential in the bill’s defeat. The Roman Catholic Church, which previously was neutral on the issue, lobbied against it this year.
"I think what they’ve invited today is a lawsuit seeking marriage — absolute equal rights. … I’m sure there are folks that are ready to pursue that," said Patti Bushee, a Santa Fe city councilor.
Debate in the Senate was brief and dwelled almost exclusively on the legal implications of the bill.
Its sponsor, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, described it as a "safety net" for those who don’t qualify for, or choose, marriage.
The bill is "not a marriage bill," he insisted. New Mexico doesn’t even recognize common-law marriage, said McSorley, a lawyer who chairs the Judiciary Committee. A valid license is required to be considered married.
In New Mexico, "You’re either married or you’re not married. This bill changes nothing," he said.
But opponents disputed that.
"This bill is really marriage in disguise," said Sen. William Sharer, a Farmington Republican, sounding a recurring theme from opponents.
A domestic partnership law "makes New Mexico ripe for a court challenge on the gay marriage issue," said Republican Whip William Payne of Albuquerque.
On the Net: New Mexico Legislature, www.nmlegis.gov
The domestic partnership bill is SB12.