Since marriage equality became state law on January 1, 2010, more than 1,000 New Hampshire gay and lesbian couples have legally committed to take care of and be responsible for each other.
Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) would prefer that number not increase, having recently filed two bills that would repeal marriage equality and return state law to what it was four years ago. Were Bates to have his way, gay and lesbian couples would once again be treated less than equally under the law, their relationships invalid in the eyes of the state.
There is a caveat to Bates’ proposed legislation: marriages for gay and lesbian couples performed during the past year would remain legal.
Bates says he’s confident the bill will pass in both the House and the Senate.
“I think the real challenge will be if the governor chooses to veto this,” said Bates.
Mo Baxley, the executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, says there’s no question as to whether Democratic Gov. John Lynch would support a repeal of the marriage equality bill.
“It seems foolhardy to pursue this when they know they can’t win,” said Baxley. “The governor has already publicly stated he will veto the bill, and I don’t believe they’ll be able to round up the votes to override a veto.”
If the House and Senate voted to repeal marriage equality, and the governor vetoed the repeal, the Legislature would then need to come up with a minimum two-thirds majority to override the veto.
Former Democratic state representative Jim Splaine, the primary sponsor of the marriage equality bill in 2009, says this issue has already been decided. He notes that the marriage equality bill went through 12 hours of debate, 13 hours of public hearings and a six-month process that culminated in the Legislature’s decision to make marriage equality the law of the land in New Hampshire.
Baxley believes legislators should not waste their time debating an issue that has already been decided. She says their priorities should be job creation and the budget.
Rep. Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry) agrees with Baxley.
“Right now we’re concerned about the economy,” said Baldasaro. “We need to get people back to work first.”
Where they disagree is that Baldasaro thinks legislators should be multitasking, getting people back to work while also working to repeal marriage equality.
Bates’ proposed legislation isn’t the only threat to marriage equality in New Hampshire. With financial support coming from groups such as Cornerstone Action and the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, Let New Hampshire Vote is a movement that supports a constitutional amendment being put to a vote in 2012.
Though the fate of marriage equality in New Hampshire remains uncertain, one thing is clear.
“I think this is going to be a long-term issue,” said Splaine. “There might be a move to put the question to the ballot in 2012, and we might end up discussing this for a couple of years.”
Currently five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa) and Washington, D.C., legally allow marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Legislatures in Rhode Island and Maryland are set to debate the issue this year.
GLAAD urges the media to continue reporting on the significance of marriage for gay and lesbian couples in New Hampshire and elsewhere.