Republicans who gathered outside the state capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., on Valentine's Day to promote marriage and family found an uninvited but attentive audience: same-sex marriage activists. As GOP lawmakers extolled the virtues of marriage and offered legislation aimed at keeping marriages intact, a voice shouted out from the sign-toting crowd: "We ought to be allowed to get married."
Same-sex marriage is at the center of one of the hottest debates of this year's legislative session. So-called defense of marriage bills promoted by Republican legislators would outlaw same-sex unions and instead define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Gay rights advocates--while trying to defeat those measures--are pushing domestic-partnership legislation that would allow same-sex couples to register and get the state-issued benefits of marriage.
The hundreds of activists who rallied at the capitol on Monday included a lesbian couple about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Norma Vasquez and Mary Houdek of Rio Rancho were among more than 60 gay couples to whom Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap issued marriage licenses on February 20, 2004, before state attorney general Patricia Madrid said they were illegal. "Those marriages...take nothing away from anybody else's marriage in New Mexico," Houdek told the crowd in the capitol rotunda. She decried the marriage-definition legislation as discriminatory and antifamily.
According to the 2000 census, one in three lesbian households in New Mexico and one in four gay male households had children under 18 living at home, the advocates said. "Our families are just being abandoned and just being told we don't count," said Mary Ellen Capek, chairwoman of the board of the Equality New Mexico Foundation.
Republicans, meanwhile, rolled out a package of bills they said would strengthen marriages and families. State senator Mark Boitano of Albuquerque said they were aimed at two "raging epidemics" in the state: "non-parented or under-parented children" and "throwaway marriages." "More and more children are spending less and less time with their biological parents," he said, citing the increasing numbers of children born to unmarried mothers. (AP)
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