Domestic partners bill revived

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

A stalled bill that would establish domestic partnerships for unmarried couples in New Mexico got new life Monday when a senator who had opposed the idea decided to let the entire Senate consider it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 Monday to pass Senate Bill 12, without recommendation, to the full Senate, which could hear the bill later this week.

Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, on Monday cast the deciding vote to revive SB12, which two weeks ago the bill had bogged down in the committee on a 5-5 tie.

Sanchez had been out of the room during the Feb. 2 vote.

Both supporters and opponents of the bill packed the committee room and the hall outside. Moments after the vote there was a burst of applause and cheers from SB12 supporters outside of the room.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, said, “We are thrilled by this victory and welcome the chance to have a full Senate vote on this.”

But Rita Ortiz of Espanola, who came to the Capitol to show her opposition, said she was disappointed. “I truly believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said. Ortiz added, “I thank God we have one more chance to pray about this. Mew Mexico needs to take a righteous stand.”

The bill would allow unmarried partners in New Mexico — same-sex and otherwise — many of the same rights and privileges as married couples. But backers point out that there are many rights and privileges that still would be denied to same-sex and other couples who become domestic partners.

Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, said he believes there are enough votes on the Senate floor to pass it. If so, it would go on to the House, which has passed similar bills before.

Sanchez said earlier this month that she was opposed to the bill. On Monday, she told the committee that because the bill involves marriage, “This probably needs to go to the floor for a full hearing.”

Sanchez noted a recent poll commissioned by the ACLU of 405 registered voters in her district that showed 63 percent strongly support or somewhat support the proposed law, while 31 percent strongly or somewhat oppose. The poll was conducted by Research & Polling Inc. of Albuquerque earlier this month

But the poll, Sanchez said, only dealt with domestic partnerships, not marriage. She said some courts in states that established domestic partnerships — such as California and Connecticut — ended up legalizing same-sex marriage. In a highly watched ballot initiative last year California voters passed Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage, overturning a state court ruling. However, there are several pending legal challenges to that initiative.

Gov. Bill Richardson supports the bill. “I feel strongly that it’s a matter of human rights and civil rights,” Richardson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We should strongly support it and I’ll work very hard to get it done.”

McSorley and Sanchez were joined by Sens. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe; Michael Sanchez, D-Belen; Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque; and Tim Eichenberg, D-Albuquerque, in voting to pass SB12 without a recommendation. Voting against the motion were Sens. Bill Payne, John Ryan, Sander Rue — all R-Albuquerque; Clint Harden, R-Clovis; and Richard Martinez, D-Espanola.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com