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          Front Page


March 22, 2003



Gay Rights Bill Goes to Governor



   
   
By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE   —   A proposal to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation won final approval in the Legislature late Friday and was sent to Gov. Bill Richardson.
    The measure will extend anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians to make it illegal to discriminate against them in matters of employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and union membership.
    Richardson wanted lawmakers to send him the anti-discrimination measure.
    The legislation would broaden the state's Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation   —   heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality   —   and gender identity.
    The measure cleared the Legislature when the Senate voted 22-20 to accept a House-passed version of the bill. The House had approved the proposal 32-26.
    The proposal will exempt businesses with fewer than 15 workers when it comes to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
    Supporters say the measure is needed because it's now legal to refuse to hire someone, or to fire someone, because he or she is gay   —   or because of the perception that the person is gay.
    Opponents argue that passing the measure would invite lawsuits as well as burden businesses.
    Rep. Daniel Foley, R-Roswell, offered the provision to exempt companies with fewer than 15 workers. He said it would reduce the burden on small businesses.
    During Senate debate, Sen. Don Kidd, R-Carlsbad, objected to the small business exemption because he said that provision made it "OK to discriminate against you, if you only have 15 people."
    Supporters said 13 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination laws.
    Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said "it's time to be tolerant and understanding of people that are different from you, and I think that's what this bill does."