On Thursday, the first openly transgender person to seek a New Mexico legislative seat, Bunnie Benton Cruse, announced her intent to replace Rep. Melanie Stansbury for the state House. Stansbury is the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election for the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland vacated when she left the U.S. House of Representatives to take the federal position. Benton Cruse will apply to the Bernalillo County Commission, which will decide who to appoint to HD 28 if Stansbury wins June 1 and leaves the seat. Benton Cruse said she went public with her intention to apply for the HD 28 seat before the June 1 special election because she believes Stansbury will win. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called Benton Cruse’s decision to seek Stansbury’s seat “historic.”
With six openly queer legislators participating in the 2021 New Mexico legislative session, many in the LGBTQ community said this past session was important in the advancement of equal rights. But also, legislation that would repeal the state’s ban on abortion, remove qualified immunity as a legal defense and enable individuals whose civil rights have been violated to seek financial remedy through the courts and require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees are major highlights for the LGBTQ community as well as the reproductive justice community because the two intersect. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which made the changes on qualified immunity, and the Healthy Workplaces Act, which imposes the paid sick leave requirement, passed both chambers but await Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Lujan Grisham has already signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, on abortion, into law after it passed both chambers in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
But there were other moments, such as an informal “gay pride night” in the state Senate, when two bills sponsored by openly queer Senators passed in mid-March, that were noted by members of the LGBTQ community.
With the passage of legislation to repeal the state’s outdated abortion ban and the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, many in the reproductive justice community called the 2021 Legislative session “extraordinary.”
All reproductive rights groups NM Political Report spoke with cited the passage of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, or SB 10, as one of the biggest victories and a major piece of legislation to come out of the 2021 session. Legislators fast tracked the bill through committee hearings and it passed both chambers before the session’s end. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
The bill repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion and made it a fourth-degree felony for a medical practitioner to perform one. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called the 2021 Legislative session “historic.”
Rushforth said it was in contrast to other states, where in the first few months of 2021, state legislatures have introduced close to 400 pieces of anti-abortion legislation.
A bill that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to make clear that public bodies and state agencies are subject to its provisions passed unanimously in committee hearing Saturday. HB 192 is sponsored by House Rep. Brittany Barreras, an independent from Albuquerque who caucuses with the Democrats. Called the Extend Human Rights Act to Public Bodies, the bill passed the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs unanimously. Barreras and co-sponsor Rep. Angelica Rubio D-Las Cruces, amended the bill to modernize the language and change “handicapped” to “disabled” and clarified that public agencies would not have to change programmatic focus under the bill. Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said this bill, if made law, would bring greater clarity to the New Mexico Human Rights Act.
A virtual reproductive-justice rally to underscore the importance of repealing the 1969 abortion ban in the state took place Monday. Because of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Respect New Mexico Women, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reproductive justice, held the rally virtually to ensure safety during the pandemic. An assortment of advocates, experts, supporters and lawmakers spoke from their individual locations to talk about why repealing the 1969 ban that would outlaw abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court guts or overturns Roe v. Wade is crucial to healthcare. Related: New Mexico’s 1969 abortion law was one in a long line of laws restricting access
There were calls to action and two Albuquerque Democratic legislators, state Sen. Linda Lopez and state state Rep. Georgene Louis, of the Acoma Pueblo, spoke about why they are sponsoring the Senate and House bills. Lopez said “every pregnancy is unique and complex.”’
“Making a decision not to continue a pregnancy is very difficult and very personal,” she said.
With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins
Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.
An anti-discrimination bill to help protect the LGBTQ community in the state will be filed in January ahead of the state legislative session. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the panic defense bill, which he introduced in the 2019 Legislature. That year, SB 159 passed two committees but Candelaria said he pulled the bill to wait for a friendlier time in the Legislature. He noted that after the Nov. 3 election, there will be six lawmakers, including Candelaria, who are openly members of the LGBTQ community.
New Mexico voters embraced candidates in the 2020 elections that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office. The state saw a slew of “firsts” this year.
For the first time in the state’s history, New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held by women of color. And both Yvette Herrell, who will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and Deb Haaland, who won reelection to the state’s 1st Congressional District, are enrolled members of Indigenous nations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation, making New Mexico the first state in the U.S. to have two Indigenous Representatives.
Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, is Latina.
Terrelene Massey, Diné (Navajo) and the executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said she’s really excited to see more representation from women, especially women of color and Native American women. “I think they’ll provide different perspectives on the different issues they’ll be working on,” Massey said.
U.S. Senate Republicans voted 52 to 48 to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Sept. 18. President Donald Trump held a celebration at the White House Monday evening after the Senate vote and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas swore her in at the White House to the lifetime position. Barrett’s confirmation received no support from Democrats who voiced their anger over her confirmation hearing over the weekend. All Democratic Senators voted against her, including both of those from New Mexico.
A court case that could affect anti-discrimination laws in New Mexico will soon be before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia, will be heard by the Supreme Court next month. The case involves a Catholic-based organization that sued the city of Philadelphia because the city refused to allow the organization to continue a contract to house youth in foster care because the organization discriminates against same-sex couples. Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said that if the case is decided by a conservative majority on the court, then a contractor who receives tax payer funding to provide, for instance, homeless shelter services or foodbank services through a government contract could refuse to house or provide food to queer or transgender people. Martinez said that if the court rules against the city of Philadelphia broadly and bases its opinion on a religious argument, then the case could be interpreted to allow one faith-based organization to discriminate against people of other faiths and deny services to people of other faiths.