Domestic partnership bill passes committee

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

As a measure to give domestic partners many of the rights and privileges as married couples inches through the Legislature, supporters hope it becomes law this year — when Gov. Bill Richardson has said he will sign it.

That’s because New Mexico next year could have a governor who would veto it.

According to a survey of the six gubernatorial candidates, only Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would sign the measure should lawmakers approve.

“I have fought to eliminate discrimination of any kind throughout my career and I support the domestic-partnership bill,” said Denish, the only Democrat in the race. “This bill is about treating New Mexicans equally under the law. That means having the ability to take family medical leave when someone is sick, extending health insurance to your family, and making sure children are protected when a parent dies.”

All five Republican candidates said they would oppose the measure, and several of them on Tuesday criticized the idea that Gov. Bill Richardson would ask lawmakers to consider the measure in a year with such a budget crunch. Several also said they see the measure as a stepping stone to gay marriage.

Allen Weh, former chairman of the state Republican Party, on Monday was the first candidate to come out against the measure, saying it “would likely change the way marriage is defined in our state.”

“I oppose it. I believe marriage is the union between one man and one woman, and as governor would veto any legislation that could be used to redefine it,” he said in a statement.

Doug Turner, who runs an Albuquerque public-relations company, said he wouldn’t sign the bill if elected governor.

“This legislation sets forth simple contractual rights which individuals can already engage in. Today, the majority of Fortune 500 companies currently provide these benefits (to heterosexual and same sex couples) as do state entities such as UNM and cities such as Albuquerque,” he said in an e-mail.

Pete Domenici, Jr. an Albuquerque attorney, called the measure “a poorly veiled scheme to redefine traditional marriage, an important institution that is under major attack and deserves protection.

“This legislation is virtually a repeat of the many contracting and property rights already available to consenting adults, but it attempts to intertwine them into the framework of a traditional marriage,” he said.

“An honest analysis of this 816-page bill reveals it is a no-holds-barred attempt to enable people of the same gender to be married. This directly seeks to force on our state what most U.S. voters have rejected time and again.”

At the same time, Domenici, Jr. said he would “work hard to protect the now-existing rights of all consenting adults to enter into legal agreements with each other.”

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, said the measure sounds too much like marriage to her.

“While I have not read SB183 the domestic partnership bill sounds an awful lot like marriage. I have voted to defend marriage as a union between one man and one woman as it is the covenant that anchors civilization. I will not support marriage by another name and would therefore veto this bill,” she said.

Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez also said she would veto the bill.

“I would not sign the domestic partnership bill. It is unnecessary and ill-advised, as most of the rights can be attained through contracts and by power of attorney. Rushing this bill through the Legislature demonstrates that the Richardson/Denish administration has its priorities misplaced,” she said.

“In this short session, New Mexicans expect their leaders to solve the state’s most pressing issues, such as record unemployment and the massive budget deficit.”

The gubernatorial primary election is June 1; the general election is Nov. 2. The next governor would take office Jan. 1, 2011. Richardson is prevented by term limits from running again.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-306 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.