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N.M. attorney general derails petitions against ‘gay-rights law’

ALBUQUERQUE (BP)–New Mexico’s attorney general, in a reversal, has declared that the state’s “gay-rights law” cannot be challenged by voters during this year’s general election.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid, in an opinion on the petition drive to place the issue on the November ballot, cited language in the state constitution that, “The people reserve the power to disapprove, suspend and annul any law enacted by the Legislature” except “laws providing for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”

The law, approved last year by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Richardson, took effect July 1, 2003, and was slightly revised during the 2004 legislative session. It extends the state’s Human Rights Act to cover “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Christian Life Committee encouraged churches across the state to participate in an effort to collect the approximately 50,000 signatures needed by July 1, 2004, to put the issue before voters. Organizers of the petition effort said more than half of the signatures needed have been collected.

David King, chairman of the BCNM Christian Life Committee, told the Baptist New Mexican that New Mexico’s secretary of state, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, will follow Madrid’s ruling and not accept signatures that had been collected or any that will be collected.

Madrid’s opinion, dated May 14, reverses a notice she wrote to “Referendum Petition Solicitors and Signers” in May 2003. The notice, which was distributed along with the petitions, said, “This is to inform you that voters of the state of New Mexico have the power under New Mexico Constitution Article IV, Section 1 to reject a law that was passed in the last legislative session. The purpose of the supporters of this petition is to request that the law they seek to reject be submitted to the electorate at the next general election set for November 2004. If a sufficient number of valid petition signatures is gathered, the law will be repealed if a majority of the voters at the November 2004 general election votes to reject that law.”

One legislator, Earlene Roberts, R.-Lovington, told the Albuquerque Journal, that she objected to the attorney general “saying that the people of this state don’t have a right to rescind a law that they don’t believe in.

“She’s playing God,” said Roberts, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lovington.

Roberts said she intends to continue to collect signatures “for a potential showdown in court,” the Journal reported.

“I don’t think there’s a court in this nation that will say the public cannot speak,” Roberts said.

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  • John Loudat