SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is drawing criticism from a liberal advocacy group for vetoing legislation that would have required the state to expedite the occupational and professional licenses of domestic partners of gay military members.
The Republican governor signed into law last month a nearly identical measure but it applies to spouses of military members - not domestic partners in a same-sex relationship.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved two versions of the measure that supporters say is to help military members, their spouses and recently discharged veterans who move to New Mexico to quickly start work in licensed jobs ranging from nurses and dentists to barbers and architects. Only one of the bills, however, would have covered domestic partners as well as spouses, and Martinez vetoed it last week without explanation - more than a week after signing the other bill.
"The rest of the country has moved forward and understands the sacrifice our proud gay service members make. 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," said Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico.
Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Martinez, said the governor would have signed the proposal had it included a definition of domestic partner that met guidelines established by the Defense Department.
"In fact, there was no definition in the legislation at all - for a term that has been defined and interpreted several different ways in state and federal law," Knell said in a statement.
State government offers health care benefits for domestic partners of its employees, a policy that was implemented a decade ago by Martinez's Democratic predecessor, Bill Richardson. The partners must sign affidavits indicating they have a domestic partnership. However, proposals to allow domestic partnerships for unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples have failed repeatedly in the Legislature.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government from recognizing a marriage other than that between a man and a woman. But earlier this year, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were ordered by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend to same-sex partners of military personnel certain benefits not barred by the law, including identification cards that give them visitation rights at military hospitals.
Same-sex couples in the military aren't eligible for all the benefits that long have been available to opposite-sex military couples, including survivor benefits and base housing.
Under the new state law, which takes effect July 1, boards and agencies are to issue a license "as soon as practicable" if military personnel or their spouses show they have a valid occupational license from another state and have met minimum credentialing requirements similar to those in New Mexico.
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