Two New Mexico Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate against LGBT people by citing religious objections.
The bill, introduced by Reps. David Gallegos and Nora Espinoza, would forbid the state to "burden a person's free exercise of religion by requiring the person to provide a service or to conduct business in a manner inconsistent with adherence to that person's sincerely held religious belief" regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, according to bill text posted online.
It includes corporations under the definition of "person," and it would not allow a religious exemption for discrimination based on any other characteristic -- race, sex, age, etc. -- covered by the state's Human Rights Act.
The two lawmakers filed the bill last Thursday for consideration in the new legislative session, which opens January 19, the Albuquerque Journal reports. "The intent of the bill would be to ensure people would not be forced to operate their business that was in a way inconsistent with their religious beliefs," Gallegos told Albuquerque TV station KOB Friday.
Actually, the bill is "blatant discrimination," Amber Royster, executive director of LGBT group Equality New Mexico, told the Journal.
"When the bill removes sexual orientation and gender, we know exactly what the intent is," she added. It's to make the lives of LGBT people harder."
Equality New Mexico notes on its website that by defining corporations as people, the bill would allow health care companies to refuse treatment to LGBT people due to a CEO's religious objections, let social service agencies prevent qualified same-sex couples from adopting children, and create a host of other discriminatory situations.
The bill would overturn the rulings in a discrimination suit against Elane Photography, which had turned down a request to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony in 2006. After the couple sued, a series of court rulings found the photo business had violated the state's antidiscrimination law, the final one coming from the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2013. The following year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, letting the state decision stand.
Gallegos told KOB the bill would cut down on lawsuits and put all businesses "on an even playing field." State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat, begged to differ.
"This bill goes a lot further than just wedding photography," Candelaria told the station. "This bill would allow any profession, any person to deny services to people because they are lesbian or gay. That includes doctors and pediatricians treating children whose parents are gay or lesbian."
It remains uncertain if the bill will get a hearing in the session that begins in January, the Journal notes. It's a 30-day session, in which the governor determines what legislation will be considered. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has not announced her choices yet, but the session is expected to focus on the state's fiscal problems.
This year similar "license to discriminate" legislation passed in Indiana and Arkansas, but both states amended it after public backlash. Mississippi has had such a law since 2014.
Watch the KOB report below.