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New Mexico State Capitol (KRQE News 13)
Updated: Tuesday, 19 Jan 2010, 8:03 PM MST
Published : Tuesday, 19 Jan 2010, 8:03 PM MST
SANTA FE (AP) - A proposal backed by Gov. Bill Richardson for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples has run into trouble at the start of the legislative session.
The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops will oppose the legislation, just as it did last year when lawmakers rejected a similar proposal. Opposition from the Roman Catholic Church dims prospects for the legislation's approval.
Advocates had tried to develop a proposal in recent months to meet the bishops' objections and keep the church neutral in this year's domestic partnership debate.
That effort failed, however.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the group representing New Mexico's Catholic bishops, said Tuesday that domestic partnerships are a "stepping stone" to same-sex marriage.
The legislation would give unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples the legal protections and benefits of married couples on issues ranging from medical decision-making to adoption and child support.
"The bishops are instructed by Catholic teachings not to give any ground that would lead to same-sex marriage," Sanchez said in an interview.
Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, said supporters aren't giving up and plan to aggressively push for the legislation despite the church's opposition.
"We're hopeful that people will see that fairness and equity should rule rather than bias and bigotry," Siegle said. "it's going to be hard, but it's very important that we keep working on this issue."
Advocates had written an 825-page bill for this session, but Siegle said that would be abandoned and a shorter measure - nearly identical to last year's proposal - would be offered instead. Some lawmakers had objected to the longer legislation, which tried to deal with all references in state law to rights and benefits involving marriage.
Supporters plan for the legislation to be considered first in the Senate because it will face the strongest opposition in the chamber from Republicans and conservative Democrats. Last year, 10 Democrats joined 15 Republicans to defeat the domestic partnership bill.
Richardson, in his State of the State speech to the Legislature, urged lawmakers to approve domestic partnerships.
"We cannot accept discrimination in any form," Richardson said. "A committed couple who agrees to spend their lives together deserves equal protection under the law."