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Child Welfare, Civil Rights and the Nature of Marriage

By Claus Whiteacre

After a lengthy debate Thursday afternoon, three bills related to same-sex marriage were tabled in the House Consumer and Public Affairs on a straight party line vote of three to two.

At the request of committee Chair Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) all three bills were presented together. So, while public comments and committee debate addressed the three bills as one, each bill was voted on individually.

The action came after hours of testimony and debate about the child welfare, the nature of marriage and civil rights for all New Mexicans.

In the end, all three bills were tabled along party lines, and thus are unlikely to be brought back in the house this session.

The Bills

HB162, sponsored by Rep. David Chavez (R-Los Lunas) would bar New Mexico from recognizing same-sex marriages and civil unions entered into outside of New Mexico.  Rep. Chavez said his bill was in reaction to the non-binding opinion issued by Attorney General Gary King earlier this year, which concluded otherwise.

From the opinion:

“While we cannot predict how a New Mexico court would rule on this
issue, after review of the law in this area, it is our opinion that a
same-sex marriage that is valid under the laws of the country or state
where it was consummated would likewise be found valid in New Mexico.”

Rep. Chavez is also the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 8, which seeks to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman, as well as not recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Rep. Nora Espinoza (R-Roswell) is the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 7, which is limited to defining marriage.

Both resolutions are constitutional amendments that would have been put to the voters at the next general election.

The Evidence

Rep Chavez, Rep. Espinoza and their expert witness tried to present the bills as being all about the welfare of children. As such, they posited the concept that children raised in a heterosexual household fare better than those raised in single parent or same-sex households. They also asserted that reproduction and raising the resulting offspring are the only real purpose of marriage.

Much of the “evidence” cited by the expert witness was discredited last year in California during the appeals of Proposition 8.

Sometimes the “evidence” presented was downright offensive. During public comments Rep. Chasey had to admonish one of the supporters to not be offensive after he stated that anything other than sex between a man and a woman was “sodomy.”

Counter Arguments

Lawmakers countered that New Mexico children face greater threats to their welfare than being raised by gay parents.

“I would prefer a child to be raised in a same-sex household rather than in an orphanage,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque).

Maestas said far more harm will come to children if New Mexico passes a budget with significant cuts to health and social services. We are passing a budget that is “anti-marriage, because we are politicians who don’t have the guts to raise taxes,” he said.

Rep. Chasey agreed, saying that the greater threat to families comes from not supporting those who are most vulnerable. Chasey said she  was referring to the decreased funding in the coming budget for pre-natal care, home visits and early childhood education.

Public Comment

During the public comment periods, opponents of the bills testified of personal hardships caused by the lack of same-sex marriage or civil unions in New Mexico.

There could be a positive economic impact to the state as well, witnesses said. One woman said she traveled to Connecticut last year to marry her partner of 11 years. Family and friends attended from throughout the country, she noted, generating a fair amount of economic activity in that town.

Looking Ahead

On the Senate side, there is one more definition of marriage constitutional amendment still to be heard.

Senate Joint Resolution 4, sponsored by Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington), has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

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