New Mexico governor Bill Richardson on Tuesday signed into law bills that add extra penalties for hate crimes and outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Richardson had promised to sign the measures, which gay rights advocates have sought for years. The governor scheduled a ceremonial signing of the bills for Wednesday.
The hate-crimes law, which becomes effective July 1, allows a judge to give extra prison time to an offender whose crimes are determined by a court to have been motivated by hate. A first-time offender could get a year--and a repeat offender, two years--added to his or her prison sentence. Hate crimes are those committed because of the victim's actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The antidiscrimination law, also effective July 1, broadens the state's Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation--heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality--and gender identity. It makes it illegal to discriminate against gay, bisexual, or transgendered people in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and union membership. Businesses with fewer than 15 workers are exempt from the employment discrimination provision. Supporters of the new law say it is necessary because it is currently legal to refuse to hire someone--and legal to fire someone--because he or she is gay, bisexual, or transgendered or perceived to be so.