The New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to pass along legislation that would create gay and straight domestic partnerships in the state to the full Senate.

The Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, introduced as Senate Bill 12 by Senator Cisco McSorley, has been crafted to give committed gay and lesbian couples marriage-like benefits.

New Mexico falls in the small category of states that have not acted for or against gay marriage. The state has come close to passing a domestic partner law in the past and the state's governor, Bill Richardson, has promised to sign it. The state has outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2003.

The committee voted 6-5 to send the bill to the full Senate for debate, but stopped short of recommending approval. Members voted to remain neutral on the bill.

The bill had reached a stalemate on tie votes. Democratic Albuquerque Senator Bernadette Sanchez, who had been absent during an earlier vote this month, broke the deadlock Monday by voting in favor of sending the measure to the full Senate.

“This has been before the Legislature before and has almost passed,” said Dan Tapper, a member the Las Cruces chapter of the gay-affirming group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). “Hopefully, with a slight change in the composition of our delegation, we might be able to have it passed.”

Similar legislation has passed the New Mexico House, but faltered in the Senate. Gay activists are hopeful the votes of several newly elected Democratic senators will put the bill over the top.

Members of Equality New Mexico, a gay rights group headquartered in Albuquerque, rallied at the Capitol before the committee voted.

“If we don't get the bill this year ... we're going to be back year after year,” Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, told the Las Cruces Sun-News.