Marriage Equality Clears 1st Hurdle in New Mexico

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday February 4, 2013

A bill that allow New Mexico's voter to decide whether or not to legalize same-sex marriage paseds its first hurdle, the first of many before it ever reaches the ballot, in 2014 at the earliest.

A committee in the state legislature's lower house narrowly voted to approve the measure on Thursday. As Albuquerque ABC affiliate KOAT7 reported,

members of the House Public Affairs Committee approved the measure 5-4. The razor-thin vote indicates debates in the sprawling southwestern state's legislature.

"We should not discriminate," said Rep. Brian Egolf, a Democrat who sponsored the bill and who represents the hipster enclave of Santa Fe, the state capital. "The state should be doing everything possible to encourage people to enter into committed, long-term relationships, especially when there's children involved." Egolf proudly noted the many messages his office has received from well-wishers from around the country.

Supporters and opponents came out in force when the committee held a public hearing on the bill. "Our country is not just and equal when it says one group of people can do something and another can't," Cristina Calvillo-Rivera.

On the other side, Jose Vasquez, who also spoke at the public hearing, asked plaintively, "What happens to those kids? Those kids were not created in that relationship."

If both houses of the legislature pass the measure, citizens will vote on the controversial issue in November 2014. Like other such bills, it has specific religious carve-outs that any place of worship can opt out of allowing same-sex marriage to take place, a particularly crucial factor in a state where the Roman Catholic Church has sway over a large part of the electorate.

Currently, New Mexico does not recognize any form of legalized same-sex partnerships, neither civil unions, domestic partnerships or marriage. In 2011, the state attorney general said the state would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages that were contracted in jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal, which would essentially means that such marriages are already legal, as long as as they're performed elsewhere. But that is only his opinion, and no relevant cases have asked the state for recognition.

Same-sex partners of state employees receive the same benefits as legal spouses, however. The state's LGBT inclusion in hate crime and discrimination laws indicates growing acceptance.

New Mexico is a true melting pot. One of the first areas in what would become the United States explored by Europeans, it was part of Mexico until 1850. It still has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state, the highest percentage of Native Americas in the contiguous Lower 48 states. In recent elections, Mexico has moved from the GOP side to firmly blue Democrat. Even so, most of the state is rural, and Greater Albuquerque, where more than one-third of residents live, was for much of the past century a byword for Barry Goldwater-style conservatism.

As Gay Star News reported, the next step the bill needs to clear is two other House committees. Then it must pass a floor vote by the entire House. After that, the Senate will take up the measure.

New Mexico isn't the only state making news on the marriage equality front.

Lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois have proposed legislation. In both of those states, observers on both sides believe that those pushing for legalization have the wind at their backs, as well as money, while the traditional-values groups are increasingly struggling for funds to meet basic operating expenses.