Activists defeat effort to overturn New Mexico gay rights law

BY admin

July 03 2004 12:00 AM ET

Opponents of a gay rights provision in New Mexico state law have given up their effort to get it overturned by voters. Republican state representative Earlene Roberts of Lovington said opponents would not attempt to submit signatures by the July 2 deadline to get the question on the November 2 ballot.

The attorney general in a legal opinion has said the law is not subject to a referendum. But opponents could have tried to file petitions by Friday's deadline and then gone to court when the petitions were refused by the secretary of state. Instead, they will shift their focus elsewhere, Roberts said. "The likelihood of us winning in court was going to be very slim, and all that energy and all that money spent on court cases could be spent on something else," she said.

New Mexico's Human Rights Act was changed in 2003 to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislature changed it again in 2004 to correct a mistake in the 2003 version. 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.

But Atty. Gen. Patricia Madrid said in May that the Human Rights Act falls into the category of laws that provide for the "preservation of the public peace, health, or safety," which are exempted from referendum. Organizers would have had to gather more than 50,000 signatures to get a referendum on the November 2 general-election ballot--and it was never clear whether the signatures they gathered in 2003 would still have been valid after the 2004 changes were made to the law.

Linda Siegle of Basic Rights New Mexico, a group formed to oppose the referendum effort, said the group is "really pleased that the small group of individuals trying to collect petition signatures on the Human Rights Act have given up their effort. It appears most New Mexicans are fair-minded people who think that no one should be discriminated against in employment or housing."

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