Jennifer Rose is a field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, working in collaboration with Equality New Mexico to pass a domestic-partnership law in the 2008 Legislature. At press time, HB 9 was slated to be heard on the House floor. A lobbying day for the bill is scheduled
for Feb. 4.
SFR: Tell me how you ended up in your line up work.
The work Iï¿½ve done historically has been anti-violence work, domestic violence, sexual assault, that type of workï¿½ When I moved to New Mexico***image1*** last February [from San Francisco] with my partner, we were exploring the queer community hereï¿½and signed on to Equality New Mexicoï¿½s listserv and started getting their e-blasts about the legislation session. We started going to the Roundhouse and spent hours and days through the regular session and the special session, being an extra body, to show a presence, willing to testify if they needed that. A few months later, I saw the job description for field organizer for the ACLU, which is a collaborative position [with Equality New Mexico]. I had the time to get involved in that way and it felt like an important job to take on.
Whatï¿½s the reasoning behind ACLU partnering with Equality New Mexico on this issue?
Historically, theyï¿½ve worked together on this issue. LGBT rights are really seen as a civil rights issue. As with any marginalized or oppressed group, the ACLU has always seen their role in advocating and fighting for the rights of the LGBT community as a priority issue. I think one of the reasons they wanted to dedicate more resources is it is important to the ACLU New Mexico affiliate to let it be known throughout the state and our community that itï¿½s an issue important to them, and that they see LGBT people at the forefront in moving forward civil liberties for all people.
Explain how domestic partnerships differ from marriage.
They differ in that there is no federal recognition of domestic partnerships and although it offers some of the legal protection afforded in marriage, it doesnï¿½t provide them all. And that our bill in particular is about providing legal protections to all New Mexico families.
What are some of those protections?
Hospital visitation, the right for a domestic partner to have access to their partner in the hospital; decision-making ability in times of crisis; the presumption of parentage, which also comes with the responsibility if thereï¿½s a breakup; it gives the court authority to make child custody visitation orders or child support, it makes both parents responsible financially and in all the other ways for the children in that relationship. Health care benefits.
Youï¿½re promoting the bill in part with videos of people talking about these issues
. One interview is with Andrea Joseph. Can you share her story a bit?
Sure, Andrea and her partner, Dee [Musgrove], were in Mexico this past Christmas break and while they were snorkeling, as they got out of the water, Dee started to feel funny and started having pain in her arm and had a heart attack and died right there. Mexico City just recently passed a domestic partnership bill, so while [Andrea] was in Mexico, [she] was allowed to make some decisions. As soon as [she] got to the American embassy and was trying to make decisions about getting [Deeï¿½s] body back to the United States, she was not seen as next of kin or a decision maker because their relationship was not recognized. So [she] had to contact Deeï¿½s 19-year-old son to get papers notarized and make the decisions for his motherï¿½s body.
Domestic partnerships would not only be available to same-sex partners, right?
Unmarried opposite-sex couples could register as domestic partners. Seniors, who are maybe widowed or in relationships later in life and have certain benefits, social security, health care benefits they could lose if they were to remarry, however they still want the right to be in a nursing home together; this bill would allow for nursing home rights. It would allow for those partners to make those end-of-life decisions. And for people with disabilities as well, itï¿½s a way to have legal protections in a relationship while holding onto certain benefits that could be lost in a legal marriage.
Is it a compromise to push domestic partnerships instead of a same-sex marriage bill?
Itï¿½s a stepping stone, itï¿½s about providing legal protections to families and assuring that couples can take care of one another and really accomplishing what is possible today here in New Mexico.
Last year this bill almost passed; whatï¿½s the forecast this year?
Weï¿½re really optimistic, the campaign this year has been a collaboration of multiple organizations who have been working in a real focused campaign, which is different than previous years. Weï¿½ve been traveling across the state everywhere from Gallup to Roswell to Las Cruces to Taos, really demonstrating that there are people across the state who care about this issue, who are willing to stand up.
Is that support in 2008 different when compared to five years ago?
Absolutely. I think weï¿½ve come a long way and, although we have a ways to go, the fact that we have such widespread support from diverse groups willing to support and endorse our bill says that we have, over time, created change in peopleï¿½s beliefs and understanding and acceptance of diversity.