The political implications are interesting, certainly, of an amended bill that would repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law.
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, recently introduced an amended version of House Bill 487 that would do just that, and then some. The Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 in favor of the bill. The measure would not negate any same-sex marriages that have already happened in New Hampshire. While the measure would continue to allow civil unions, it would suspend some anti-discriminatory laws pertaining to civil unions, according to a Union Leader report. The Senate reportedly is not willing to reconvene this year, so while the House might be planning to vote on it this fall, there seemingly won’t be closure until next year.
On the one hand, given Republicans’ large majorities in both the House and the Senate, GOP leaders could be thinking it’s now or never. After all, politicos seem to agree that, even by no fault of their own, Republicans are going to lose some seats off their veto-proof majorities come the 2012 elections. There are certainly plenty of folks who feel strongly about this issue and would be disappointed if legislators never took it up.
While jobs, the economy and fiscal concerns in general are very much the priorities, at least in the eyes of residents, the gay marriage issue is just one issue among many. The GOP wasn’t elected to micromanage social policy, but since there is some support among legislators, it is “worthy of having consideration and having a vote taken, but after the vote is taken, they shouldn’t linger on this issue longer than it takes to address it,” said Fergus Cullen, former state GOP chairman. Cullen said it is not a priority issue for him.
On the other hand, might any effort to repeal this turn into a rallying cry for the Democratic base, the same liberal base that pushed for the state’s same-sex marriage law to begin with in 2008? It would seem, at least based on polls, that people in the state is much more supportive of leaving the law as it is than of changing it.
“New Hampshire was ahead of the curve when it came to this issue,” said Arnie Arnesen, host of the talk show Political Chowder. “If you want to make the 2012 elections about gay marriage, let them do it. All they’re doing is digging their own [political] graves.”
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll released last month reported that 29 percent of residents support repealing the law. According to the poll, 50 percent of residents strongly opposed repeal and 12 percent of residents are somewhat opposed to repeal.
“Strong opponents of repealing same-sex marriage continue to outnumber strong proponents by more than two to one,” said Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, in the poll report. “The New Hampshire public is not showing any strong desire to repeal this law.”
But there’s no doubt the issue is of the utmost importance to some.
“I don’t begrudge them the fact that they’re taking up the issue,” Cullen said, noting there are a number of legislators who feel strongly about the issue. “When Democrats had the majority, they made it a priority issue. I think it was a mistake for them to put such a high priority on it. I think Republicans would make the same mistake if they made it a priority issue, and they did not. They’ve had the majority for 10 months and they’re only getting to this issue now. I think that’s appropriate.”
Ellen Kolb, Cornerstone Action’s legislative director, said in a statement that traditional marriage has momentum in New Hampshire: “Elections have consequences. Last year, New Hampshire voters rejected the extreme far-left majority and replaced it with a new majority that treasures traditional marriage,” Kolb said. “This week we saw the first fruits of that important election with regard to this issue. The same-sex marriage lobby’s agenda has been exposed and there isn’t enough out-of-state special interest money to obscure it any longer.”
Republicans certainly could muster the votes to pass the legislation, but if Gov. John Lynch were to veto it, and the guess is he would given that he signed the state’s gay marriage law, it would certainly be difficult to garner the votes to override that veto. The legislature passed a bill on right-to-work legislation earlier this year that Lynch vetoed. So far, Republicans haven’t held a vote on the legislation, a signal that House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, doesn’t have the votes to override it ? and, while right-to-work is a hot-button issue for some, it is certainly not in the same hot-button category as gay marriage.
The move to repeal appears deep-rooted in ideology, but Arnesen figured Republicans would lose significant ground politically because of it. She figured leaders knew the measure wouldn’t pass but it would appease the fundamentalist base that wants the repeal.
“We respect people’s right to make decisions about their own lives,” Arnesen said.
New Hampshire, more than any other state, embraces the idea that people get to marry and love who they want, Arnesen said, pointing to the state’s decided libertarian streak. She even pointed to the Free State Project, which is a movement to get liberty-minded folks to move to New Hampshire.
“They picked us,” Arnesen said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I like what they do, but we’re singing Kumbaya on this issue.”
Regardless of how the vote turns out, Cullen said it would be important for the legislature to move on after the fact. He didn’t want to see the issue dangle as the right-to-work issue has for six months.
“I hope that’s not what happens to the gay marriage vote,” Cullen said.
Looking ahead to the 2012 election, Cullen said he thought the gay marriage issue would pale in comparison to jobs and the economy, as well as the presidential election.