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SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson remains optimistic about chances in the Legislature for a proposal to allow domestic partnerships.
The Democratic governor said Wednesday he doesn’t want the bill to become bottled up in a state Senate committee this session and has been meeting with senators to try to arrange for a vote by the full Senate.
The bill would give unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples the legal protections and benefits of married couples, including on issues such as the authority to make end-of-life decisions for a partner and inheritance rights.
The bill has cleared one committee but needs to get through two more to reach the Senate floor unless a procedural change is made.
“I think every senator should get a chance to vote on it. This is an important civil rights issue. I know it’s controversial,” said Richardson.
The Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on the bill Wednesday because a winter storm made travel hazardous in the Santa Fe area.
Richardson acknowledged that the bill — even if it gets to the Senate floor — faces strong opposition. The chamber rejected a domestic partnership bill last year on a 27-15 vote, with 10 Democrats joined the chamber’s 15 Republicans in opposing the proposal.
“It’s going to be a close vote, still a bit uphill, but I remain positive and
optimistic,” Richardson said.
Opponents, including the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, view the legislation as a potential step toward gay marriage.
However, supporters say the measure will create contractual rights that are not the same as marriage.
Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, said she was encouraged that Richardson was pushing for a vote by the full Senate.
The legislation faces difficulty if it gets through the Judiciary Committee, which voted 6-5 last year to move it to the full Senate.
The next stop will be the Finance Committee, and seven of its 11 members voted against the bill last year when it failed in the Senate.
Richardson said he disagreed that the legislation was doomed because of the Finance Committee assignment, which was added Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s dead, and I don’t think it’s on life support. It’s had a setback, but it is a procedural setback,” said Richardson.
If the measure can pass the Senate, supporters are confident it could be enacted because the House has approved domestic partnership proposals in the past.
The domestic partnership bill is SB183.