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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 23, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 12
New Hampshire legislature keeps marriage equality
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New Hampshire legislature keeps marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

New Hampshire's House of Representatives has decisively defeated an attempt to repeal the state's marriage equality law.

Although Republicans control the legislature, the March 21 vote was almost two-to-one in favor of equality, with only 116 voting for repeal and 211 voting against.

'Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry,' said Craig Stowell, co-chair of Standing Up For NH Families.

'This is a sad day for New Hampshire families,' said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which opposes marriage equality.

One hundred Republican legislators voted against the repeal bill.

'After the last election where Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate [in New Hampshire], some thought that marriage equality was doomed. But many, many Republicans courageously stood up against repeal,' said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).

Ahead of the vote, more than 126,000 people signed an internet petition on the website Change.org, urging state lawmakers to leave the current law in place.

A poll taken in late January by the University of New Hampshire's survey center showed 59% of voters were against repealing same-sex marriage.

Democratic Governor John Lynch had promised to veto the repeal if it passed.

The lopsided victory was made even sweeter by the fact that opponents of marriage equality claimed they could assemble a two-thirds majority capable of overriding Lynch's veto.

'Stripping away the freedom to marry in New Hampshire was a top priority of national anti-Gay organizations, which had predicted that they would be able to garner the vote of two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate to override the promised veto by Governor John Lynch,' Freedom to Marry explained in a press release.

Stowell, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, credited New Hampshire citizens for the victory.

'This is a victory for our supporters,' he said, 'the majority of Granite Staters who oppose any rollback of marriage equality - because they reached out time and again and told lawmakers to leave this law alone.

'This was our opponents' best shot and they blew it. This was supposed to be the most favorable legislative climate for repeal and they couldn't even get a majority.'

Republican State Rep. David Bates, the author of the repeal bill, also offered an amendment which would have put a non-binding referendum on civil unions on the November ballot.

That measure was voted down 188-162.

New Hampshire lawmakers approved civil unions in 2007 and same-sex marriages in 2009, when both houses in the state legislature were controlled by Democrats.

Some 2,000 Gay and Lesbian couples have been married in New Hampshire since the current law went into effect January 1, 2010.

Under the proposed marriage repeal, those marriages would have remained valid, but the state would revert to its previous civil unions law beginning in 2013.

The proposal put NOM and its Catholic Church allies in the absurd position of endorsing civil unions.

On March 12, NOM sent out a press release urging 'the New Hampshire legislature to pass HB 437, compromise legislation to restore civil unions for same-sex couples.'

The Roman Catholic diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, followed suit with a post on their website.

'The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions,' it said.

'However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the U.S. Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church's teaching, but which nonetheless provide an 'incremental improvement' in the current law and a 'step toward full restoration of justice.'

With the defeat of the repeal attempt, New Hampshire remains one of six U.S. states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal. The others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.

Washington and Maryland have approved marriage equality but the laws have not yet gone into effect.

New Jersey's legislature approved same-sex marriage last month, but Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed it.

The constitutionality of Prop 8, which reversed marriage equality in California, is still being litigated.

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