The New Mexico senate on Wednesday voted 22-18 for a gay rights bill that mirrors a version passed two days earlier by the house. The legislation does not go to the governor's desk because the same bill must pass both houses. But the senate vote--after about four hours of debate--sends a strong signal that the legislature is prepared to enact the antidiscrimination measure after years of lobbying by activists. "I am very positive about the prospects," said Linda Siegle of the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico. "We started this process in 1991, and it's past time for gay and transgendered people to have their rights in New Mexico."
The legislation would broaden the state's Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender
identity. It would make it illegal to discriminate in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and union membership. "This bill is about the dreams of those people...who have been crushed by discrimination in housing and employment and who had nowhere to turn," said its
sponsor, Sen. Cisco McSorley.
Supporters say the measure is needed because it's now legal to refuse to hire someone, or to fire someone, because he or she is gay--or because of the perception that the person is gay. "What we should be known for as a legislature is that we won't stand for discrimination of any kind," said senate majority leader Manny Aragon. All 22 votes in favor came from Democrats, and 17 of the 18 senators voting no were Republicans.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in their antidiscrimination laws.