SANTA FE, N.M. – On Feb. 9, one of New Mexico’s Senate committee voted to table a bill aimed at granting unmarried couples the same rights and benefits as married couples.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to shelve HB 9, which would also have recognized domestic partnerships from 10 other states and the District of Columbia. It was a vote that crossed party lines, with two Democrats joining all of the committee’s Republican members.
Committee Republicans had previously said that the bill would threaten the sanctity of marriage.
The bill was not heard again before the state’s legislative session closed on Feb. 14. A similar bill proposed in the 2007 legislative session met the same fate in the Senate.
HB 9 passed a House vote of 33-31 in January. It sought to grant health insurance benefits, hospital visitation and medical leave rights, and power of attorney privileges to unmarried couples. It would have also given them the same responsibilities in raising children – such as paying child support, visitation rights and sharing custody in case of divorce – as married couples have.
Former Democratic presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson, who publicly supported the legislation, spoke out against the Senate’s decision in a public statement.
“I am extremely disappointed with the Senate committee's action,” said Richardson, who issued an executive order extending similar benefits to gay state employees in 2003. “This is a matter of civil rights and equity for all New Mexicans.”
Supporters of the legislation said they will continue to fight for a similar bill to be passed.
“We’ll be back next year and every year,” said Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for gay-rights group Equality New Mexico. “It took 12 years to get the Human Rights Act.”
The state’s Human Rights Act was amended in 2003 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment.