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Bill would let businesses shun gays, transgenders

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Representative David M. Gallegos, R-Eunice

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two state legislators have proposed a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to gay people and people who aren’t clearly male or female if it violated their religious beliefs.

The proposed bill generated immediate opposition.

The bill, HB 55, pre-filed by Reps. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, and Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, on Thursday, would remove the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” from the state’s current Human Rights Act, which says that businesses, government and non-profits can’t deny services based on certain customer characteristics.

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The law currently says services can not be denied based sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to race, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, physical or mental handicap or serious medical condition.

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Representative Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell

Gallegos and Espinoza take out the sexual orientation and gender identity wording  and emphasize that state law should not “burden a person’s free exercise of religion by requiring the person to provide a service or to conduct business” in opposition to their “sincerely held religious belief” regarding sexuality and gender. Gender is not always the same as a person’s anatomy, which is protected under the current and proposed laws as a person’s sex.

“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,” said Gallegos told KOB-TV on Friday.

He and Espinoza did not return calls Monday.

Amber Royster, executive director of Equality New Mexico, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer New Mexicans, said the bill is “blatant discrimination.”

“When the bill removes sexual orientation and gender, we know exactly what the intent is. It’s to make the lives of LGBT people harder,” she said Monday.

Her organization joined the ACLU of New Mexico and ProgressNow New Mexico in opposition to the bill.

Pat Davis, newly elected to the Albuquerque City Council, said he questions if the bill will make it to the session on the governor’s call.

During 30-day sessions, the governor must approve items to be considered.

Gov. Susana Martinez has not announced what issues and bills she will put on her call for the session, which starts Jan. 19. The session will likely focus on the state’s stressed budget.

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