GOP lawmakers in N.H. preserve gay-marriage law
Repeal measure defeated in House despite Republican supermajority
CONCORD, N.H. | New Hampshire lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have made their state legislature the first one to repeal a gay-marriage law, handing gay-rights supporters a key victory.
The state House voted 211-116 to kill the measure, ending a push by its new Republican majority to rescind New Hampshire’s 2-year-old gay-marriage law. Nevertheless, both sides are pledging to continue fighting into the fall elections.
Repeal opponents hoped to solidify what they argue is public support for gay marriage in the Northeast, while supporters hoped to reverse the law in a region of the country where gay- rights groups have strength.
”Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry,” said Craig Stowell, cochairman of Standing up For New Hampshire Families, who noted that Republicans hold a 189-seat advantage and was supposed to give conservatives their best shot at repeal. “They blew it. This was supposed to be the most favorable legislative climate for repeal, and they couldn’t even get a majority.”
The Republican-backed bill called for repealing gay marriage in March 2013 and replacing it with a civilunions law that had been in place in 2008 and 2009.
Gay marriages occurring before the repeal took effect would have remained valid, but future gay unions would have been civil unions.
The bill also would have allowed voters to weigh in on the issue through a nonbinding November ballot question.
Rep. David Welch, Kingston Republican, said he had opposed gay marriage, but the time for a repeal was past because “the legislature has given certain rights to members of our community, and now we’re being asked to take them away.”
The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to spend $250,000 to help lawmakers running for re-election who support repealing the law. On the other side, the New Hampshire Republicans of Freedom and Equality PAC is raising money to back Republicans who vote to retain it.
Democrats enacted both the civilunions and gay-marriage laws when they controlled the legislature, and Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, signed both.
After Republicans took control of the House and Senate in 2010, repeal legislative was introduced, but held over until this year. In Wednesday’s fight, Republicans took the lead on both sides of the debate.
The repeal legislation, sponsored by state Rep. David Bates, would ensure the 1,906 existing same-sex marriages would remain valid if the gaymarriage law is repealed.
Mr. Bates said it would replace the current “illegitimate definition” of marriage with one defining it as between one man and one woman.
State Rep. Warren Groen, Rochester Republican, said gay marriage will open up the definition of marriage to polygamists and others with nontraditional lifestyles.
“We are indeed on a slippery slope,” he said.
Gay-marriage advocates, who have the goal of seeing gay marriage legalized in all six New England states as soon as possible, hailed the defeat of the bill.
“Today’s victory affirmed the equality of New Hampshire’s gay and lesbian citizens,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.
When Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate in the last election, “some thought that marriage equality was doomed,” she said.
“But many, many Republicans courageously stood up against repeal” and “we thank them . . . and all the organizations and individuals who worked so hard to protect the freedom to marry,” said Ms. Swislow.
Only seven Republicans in the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted for gay marriage in 2009. “Today, however, approximately 100 voted not to repeal the law,” noted Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry.