A Las Cruces, N.M., Republican is organizing a petition drive to give voters a chance to repeal a just-enacted gay rights measure. Pam Wolfe told Republicans at the party's state central committee that she initially will try to gather enough petition signatures to prevent the law from taking effect. To put the antidiscrimination law on hold until the next general election will require nearly 126,000 signatures by June 20.
A measure passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson will make it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and union membership. The new law, which takes effect July 1, broadens the state's Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Businesses with fewer than 15 workers are exempt from the employment discrimination provision.
A provision in the state constitution allows citizens to try to overturn a law passed by the legislature by putting a repeal question on the ballot in the next general election. There are two options. To prevent the law from taking effect pending a referendum will require signatures totaling 25% of the state's 2002 general election turnout. Moreover, even if the law takes effect, a repeal referendum can be forced at the next general election by gathering signatures totaling 10% of the 2002 election turnout. That would require about 50,400 signatures, which must be submitted to the secretary of state at least four months before the November 2004 election.
The petition requirements are difficult. An antigambling group failed to force a referendum on a 1997 law, which legalized casino gambling on Indian lands and electronic slot machines at horse racing tracks and fraternal and veterans' clubs.