All five New Mexico Republican gubernatorial candidates are united against a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with domestic partnerships.

Only Democrat Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish told the Las Cruces Sun-News that she would sign the bill if elected.

“I support the domestic-partnership bill,” said Denish. “This bill is about treating New Mexicans equally under the law.”

But Denish is the only 2010 gubernatorial candidate that supports recognition of gay couples.

In its third outing, the bill faces a steep incline to passage. Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Senate have weighed down the bill with extra committee hearings during a tight legislative session scheduled to end in two weeks.

Much like Washington State, the bloated 816-page bill seeks to grant nearly every right and obligation of marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Lawmakers in Washington State, however, gradually expanded on a minimal domestic partnership law approved in 2007.

Republican candidates for the most part have kept their opposition to the bill free from anti-gay sentiment, focusing instead on the bill's usefulness.

“This legislation sets forth simple contractual rights which individuals can already engage in,” Doug Turner, an Albuquerque businessman, told the paper. “Today, the majority of Fortune 500 companies currently provide these benefits (to heterosexual and same sex couples) as do state entities such as UNM and cities such as Albuquerque.”

“I would not sign the domestic partnership bill,” Susana Martinez, district attorney for Do-a Ana County, said. “It is unnecessary and ill-advised, as most of the rights can be attained through contracts and by power of attorney.”

But several candidates squarely labeled the bill an attack on marriage.

Pete Domenici, Jr., an attorney from Albuquerque, called the measure “a poorly veiled scheme to redefine traditional marriage, an important institution that is under major attack and deserves protection.”

“I have voted to defend marriage as a union between one man and one woman as it is the covenant that anchors civilization,” Janice Arnold-Jones, a representative from Albuquerque, said. “I will not support marriage by another name and would therefore veto this bill.”

Allen Weh, the former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, said the bill “would likely change the way marriage is defined in our state,” and promised he would veto the measure.

Gay marriage became a major issue in last year's race for New Jersey's top office. In that state, Governor Chris Christie's win over Democrat Jon Corzine, a gay marriage supporter, weakened lawmaker enthusiasm for a gay marriage bill that was eventually defeated. The issue will also dominate 2010 races in Iowa, where all Republican gubernatorial candidates support restricting marriage to a heterosexual union.

Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has promised to sign the legislation should it reach his desk. Richardson is term-limited from running again.