By Sarah Meyer: CNJ staff writer
A domestic partnership bill passed Tuesday by the House is a positive step, according to the leader of a Clovis church that openly accepts gay people.
The bill would allow gay and heterosexual couples to form domestic partnerships and enjoy the same rights and benefits as married couples.
“It will be a good thing for domestic partners to be given the right to use what we pay taxes for,” said Deacon Ellen Pleasant, who is serving as acting pastor and worship team coordinator of the Llano Estacado Metropolitan Community Church.
Pleasant, who has lived with her partner for 29 years, said the bill will give domestic partners rights such as to make medical decisions and to share in medical benefits.
Three of four representatives for Clovis and Portales voted against the bill. The “no” votes came from Republicans; the “yes” vote from Democrat Jose Campos of Santa Rosa.
Campos said he voted for the bill mainly out of consideration for senior citizens who choose to live together. If they married, he said, they could lose benefits such as Social Security and Medicare. They also may want to share property.
Campos said he also voted for the bill because he’s in favor of “getting government out of making people’s decisions to live with who they want to.”
“I firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage,” he said. “That’s not what this is about.”
Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said he voted against the bill because his constituency asked him to. He also said his vote was a matter of personal conscience, citing the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
The proposal, which is part of Gov. Bill Richardson’s legislative agenda, also will recognize same-sex marriages from other states as having the legal rights as a domestic partnership in New Mexico.
Passing the bill would “let the camel get his nose under the tent to gay marriage,” Gardner said. Provisions for heterosexual relationships already are in place under existing law, he said.
But he doesn’t believe that civil unions of heterosexual couples or contract arrangements for non-sexual relationships were the intent of the bill.
“In my opinion, the intent was for gay couples,” Gardner said.
The House approved the measure on a mostly party-line 33-31 vote. Two Republicans supported the bill and seven Democrats opposed it.
The bill goes to the Senate, where a similar domestic partnership proposal stalled last year.
Senators representing Curry and Roosevelt counties said they plan to vote against the bill.
“As it’s drafted, I’ll be voting ‘no’,” said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. He said constituent phone calls and e-mails were running 10 to 1 against the bill.
“I’m elected to represent the people and that’s the message they’ve given me,” Ingle said.
Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said he will oppose the bill for religious and moral reasons and because his constituents are “overwhelmingly” opposed.
Under the legislation, couples could receive a certificate of domestic partnership by registering with a county clerk and paying a $25 fee. A couple could petition a district court to dissolve or annul a domestic partnership.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
How they voted
House votes: 33-31
Local representatives’ votes
Anna Crook, R-Clovis — no
Keith Gardner, R-Roswell — no
Brian Moore, R-Clayton — no
Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa — yes