Daniel J. Chacon, Mayor: Proposed religious freedom bill runs counter to King’s dream, The New Mexican

At an event Monday honoring civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr., Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said New Mexico legislators are considering a bill that would “promote discrimination” against gays and lesbians.

The measure, HB 55, would allow a business owner to refuse certain customers service if their sexual orientation goes against the business’ religious beliefs, such as a photographer who doesn’t want to take pictures at a gay wedding.

“Today is about remembering a great American hero, but it’s also a call to action … to use our voices and the power of our being for good and make sure that all people, all people, are treated equally,” Gonzales said, generating applause from the dozens of people gathered in the rotunda for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration.

Already there are questions about whether the bill is constitutional. One of its sponsors, state Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said afterward that the proposed legislation doesn’t discriminate against gays and lesbians but prohibits discrimination against Christians with “strong religious beliefs.”

The bill would amend the Human Rights Act “to prohibit the application of any law that burdens the free exercise of religion.” It would also amend the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act “to prevent discriminatory action by a person or a government agency in response to a person’s free exercise of religion.”

“For instance, if a baker, being that they’re not the only baker in town, if they did not want to participate in a marriage ceremony that they didn’t agree with religiously, then that couple would go find a different baker,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos said he and his co-sponsor, state Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, are tinkering with the bill’s language “to even make it a little bit softer for the gays and lesbians.”

“We’re still looking to try to make it to the point that it’s not abusive towards gays and lesbians,” he said. “But it’s at least asking them to respect our beliefs and give us an option so we’re not in a point for a lawsuit.”

Gonzales, who is gay, said the city of Santa Fe has made “great strides” in civil rights for gays and lesbians.

But “we have a long way to go in our state and our country to achieve Dr. King’s dream. Even this year, [there is a bill] being introduced that will promote discrimination” said Gonzales, who made his remarks in front of Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez.

In an interview after the event, Gonzales said the proposed legislation would allow for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Last week, the Santa Fe City Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilors Patti Bushee and Signe Lindell, who are both lesbians, opposing the bill. The mayor and the other six councilors signed on as co-sponsors.

“It’s just the wrong type of legislation to have now, especially after the Supreme Court has already ruled,” Gonzales said. “It goes counter to what Dr. King advocated for when he talked about liberty and injustice.”

Gonzales was referring to a state Supreme Court ruling that found that a photographer in Albuquerque couldn’t refuse to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony because of religious objections. In theory, the ruling means that a service business cannot refuse certain customers based on its own selectivity. An example was restaurants that would not serve people based on the color of their skin.

Several organizations, including Equality New Mexico and the ACLU of New Mexico, oppose the bill.

“Freedom of religion does not mean we have a blank check to discriminate against people and hurt families,” Steven Robert Allen, the ACLU’s policy director, said in a joint press release issued in December. “Discrimination isn’t just unconstitutional; it goes against the basic values of fairness and community New Mexicans hold dear.”

Gonzales, who previously served as state Democratic Party chairman, said in an interview that the Republican Party had a responsibility to “stand up very quickly and not even allow these bills to be introduced.”

“The governor can quickly call out and say this is not going to be signed, and it puts an end to it,” he said. “But with each day that their silence continues, I think that’s just a nod that they’re in support of it, and I hope that’s not the case.”

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

If the bill by Gallegos and Espinoza cleared the House of Representatives, it faces a certain death in the state Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

Gonzales also accused the Republican Party of using wedge issues to gain support with voters.

“Unfortunately, in Republican politics today, it’s more about creating fear and division to be able to win at the ballot box,” he said. “But this is exactly what does harm to the society. If you have injustice in one place, you can have it anywhere.”

Full article with links: http://m.santafenewmexican.com/news/legislature/mayor-proposed-religious-freedom-bill-runs-counter-to-king-s/article_64f17de6-f2f5-55d8-ad1b-0a4cdcdadf4b.html?mode=jqm