Last fall a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would repeal New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law. That such a bill was introduced was not a surprise. Republican leadership in the House and Senate had been able to keep the issue at bay last year as lawmakers dealt with the state budget but weren’t going to be able to avoid the issue forever.
But now, opposition to the repeal is heating up. Standing Up For New Hampshire Families (standingupfornhfamilies.org) is a bipartisan organization dedicated to preventing lawmakers from repealing the law.
“It is interesting. It is active and it is gaining steam,” said Tyler Deaton, spokesperson for the organization. Deaton is also secretary of the New Hampshire Young Republican Committee. “What makes it so interesting is how authentically bipartisan the organization is. New Hampshire has never seen anything like it. … There are so many Democrats, Republicans and independents. It’s spanning the political spectrum.”
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, introduced an amended version of House Bill 487 last year. The measure would not negate any existing same-sex marriages in New Hampshire and it would continue to allow civil unions.
The opposition to this bill has garnered support from across the state, notably in its leadership council, which has grown to more than 250 members, who include community leaders in business, civic and political realms. The list is broad and diverse, including the likes of inventor Dean Kamen; Alex Ray, the owner of the Common Man Restaurant family; Lew Feldstein, former chairman of the New Hampshire Charitable Trust; John Broderick, former state Supreme Court justice and current dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law; Sean Owen, owner of Manchester advertising firm wedu, and former Major League pitcher Bob Tewksbury. It also includes plenty of current and former political leaders in the state. The prominence of the membership and the truly bipartisan nature of the makeup is notable.
“What we’ve seen is that whenever people work in a bipartisan way ... you can do things you never would think are possible,” Deaton said.
The group points to polling data, which suggests two-thirds of voters are opposed to repeal. And so the organization asks Republican leadership to consider its constituents.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released last fall found 29 percent of residents support repealing the law, while 50 percent strongly oppose repeal and 12 percent are somewhat opposed to repeal. According to Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, which referenced exit polls from this month’s presidential primary in New Hampshire, 62 percent of voters opposed repeal.
“This is about giving the majority of voters a voice in Concord,” Deaton said, adding the organization is and will be meeting with political, civic and business leaders from throughout the state. “We’re working with members of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, giving them stories, letting them see....”
Bringing in national figures
Standing Up For New Hampshire Families is putting on the full-court press.
Last week, the organization had Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, here in New Hampshire pleading its case. In his view, repealing the law would simply be stripping away rights from citizens ? something the Republican party has always been against. He also saw it as potentially having a negative economic impact, since prospective businesses are going to be looking for places to locate that make their employees happy.
“It ignores the will of the people,” Mehlman said during a conference call with reporters last week. “It ignores a very clear message that was sent in 2010....”
Mehlman didn’t answer directly when asked whether repealing the law would energize support for Democrats and more moderate Republicans, but he said voters sent officials to Concord in the hopes of reducing government and to improve the economy. He said this bill would increase government and would strip away a fundamental right. That said, Mehlman said the New Hampshire officials he met with, whom he declined to identify, have been thoughtful and open to the discussion.
A new direction?
Republicans have long been known to be less tolerant on the question of gay marriage, but Deaton sees that changing.
“I think the answer is very simple: the Republican party is moving in a new direction,” Deaton said, adding that he wouldn’t put a number on it, but the organization knows of dozens of Republican state representatives who are opposed to the repeal bill.
“Part of this is a generational change,” Deaton said, adding that for many younger Republicans, the same-sex marriage issue is becoming more and more of a non-issue.
The organization has been conducting phone banks, which it is encouraging folks to get involved with.
“People who are out there who want to be involved, we need you to write your senator and your representative. We need you to help out at phone banks,” Deaton said. “This is a serious issue and your voice needs to be heard.”
A formidable opponent
Deaton was also certainly aware that there are people and organizations that are going to line up firmly in support of repealing the law.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is already looking to get in the mix in New Hampshire. It announced last week it would spend $250,000 in legislative races in New Hampshire to help legislators who support House Bill 437, and will “hold accountable” anyone who opposes the repeal bill, according to a NOM press release.
NOM, like Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, pointed to polling, saying that 61 percent of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire support a definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, alongside a provision for civil unions, said NOM President Brian Brown in the release.
“Those who support HB 437 will be rewarded, while those who don’t will suffer the consequences in the next election,” Brown said.
Therein lies the conundrum for Republicans. The guess here is that the majority of lawmakers in Concord would rather just not get into the issue at all. Without the election implications Brown alluded to, a number of Republican lawmakers would probably be able to vote against repeal and point to the polling data ? for the entire state ? that supports leaving the law alone. But they would also want to get reelected, and while polling might support leaving the law alone, a huge swath of Republican voters probably fall on the for-repeal side. And so Republicans are going to have to toe the line on this one or suffer consequences one way or another.
It’s certainly worth noting that nothing has changed in the legislative makeup in the state ? Republicans hold massive majorities in both the House and Senate, and they can do whatever they want.
NOM is a serious ally and a serious foe. According to the release, “the group is particularly effective at ending the careers of Republican officials who abandon marriage.” The release points to its roll in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, in which it aired ads critical of candidate Bill Binnie’s same-sex marriage position.