House Bill 180: Susana Martinez Thinks Gay Soldiers Don't Deserve Full Benefits


New Mexico governor Susana Martinez last month signed a bill that will streamline the process of obtaining occupational licenses for veterans and their spouses. It's a great idea — veterans and their families will be able to more easily support themselves upon moving to the state. But as of Friday, there's a gaping issue: the bill excludes same-sex partners, as Martinez vetoed an identical version of the bill that included domestic partners.

"This legislation will end the burdensome process of requiring these already-licensed nurses, teachers, counselors, and other professionals to start over from the beginning when they are transferred to our state," Martinez said after signing House Bill 180 on March 26. "I'm pleased that we are now removing this red tape and making it easier for our troops, veterans, and military spouses to get to work right away."

It will indeed be easier for military spouses to get back to work, as long as they are straight. By vetoing Senate Bill 258, which included the phrase "or domestic partners" in the list of supported groups, Martinez essentially created a two-tiered system where straight military spouses will be treated better than gay or lesbian ones. The repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) should be addressing issues like this, but New Mexico appears to be stuck in 1993.

New Mexico has one of the largest military populations in the country, and legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state may make the 2014 ballot. But while New Mexico is considered a blue state, Gov. Martinez is a Republican with traditionally conservative views.

The state is also unique in that it neither recognizes nor denies same-sex relationships. In short, there is no real reason Martinez should have vetoed S.B. 258, except to support her own abysmal record on same-sex marriage.

"The rest of the country has moved forward and understands the sacrifice our proud gay service members make," said Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico, a non-profit LGBT advocacy group. "There is no excuse in today's age for signing a bill that intentionally thumbs one's nose at our gay soldiers unless you believe that their service and sacrifice is somehow less important."

Right now, Martinez is attempting to weasel her way out of criticism by claiming that "domestic partner" was undefined in the Senate version of the bill. According to her spokesman, "she would have signed it" if it had defined this term adequately. Why this did not come to her attention sooner, like 3 weeks ago when the bill was amended to add "domestic partners" to "spouses," is unknown.

Whatever the case, wherever the confusion, the fact remains that as a result of the veto, domestic partners of gay and lesbian members of the military will be treated differently than their straight counterparts. Their partners served the country in the same way as their straight colleagues, sexual orientation notwithstanding.

We are past DADT. We should therefore be past outrageous missteps like this.