And just like that, it was gone. Well, maybe not forever, but certainly for the immediate future.
The issue of same-sex marriage has hung over this Legislature like a cloud. No longer. The House defeated a bill that would have repealed the state’s same-sex marriage law, 211-116. Now, that’s with Republicans having a nearly three-to-one advantage.
Coming off the 2010 elections, Republicans had all the political momentum, but little of that momentum originated from so-called social issues. Nevertheless, the Republican majorities were huge and historic. If there was a time to tackle repealing the state’s same-sex marriage law, which was signed into law in 2008, the time was probably now.
The national track record has been that if the question of repealing same-sex marriage gets to voters, the voters repeal it. That said, New Hampshire polling has suggested the majority of Granite Staters opposed repeal. (Opponents of same-sex marriage say that was the case in other states too, but the voting result was ultimately repeal.)
Leadership in the House was able to push off repeal legislation last session. The Senate seemingly never wanted to deal with any social issues. But the House couldn’t push it off altogether; they couldn’t push it off forever, that is.
So the time was now. And the bill went down. And it wasn’t close.
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, sponsored the legislation. This has essentially been his issue — not his alone, but he’s been driving the truck on this one. The support just wasn’t there in the House.
It’s not the only issue that could be considered a social issue, but it is probably the marquee issue.
The issue is no longer in play
The same-sex marriage issue could have been a central issue in a number of races statewide this year — certainly in nearly all races for state representative and state Senate, but it also could have been a major factor in the gubernatorial race.
Nobody gets their feet held to the fire on this. In reports, both Democratic gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley referred to this as the civil rights issue of our time. The eventual Republican nominee was going to have to pick a side in this fight. If the nominee appeased social conservatives on this, he would have been staring down a tough general election fight, particularly over moderate voters in either party.
While the National Organization for Marriage is a formidable foe, the same-sex marriage proponents, not the least of which has been Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, have been mobilizing, as well.
Democrats surely weren’t hoping this issue was passed, but how quickly and largely quietly it was dismissed was smart politics by Republicans. If the House had passed the repeal bill, that would have energized Democrats. Now it’s pretty much off the table. Not that Democrats don’t have other issues to go after Republicans with — a bill that would require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions comes to mind — but this was a big one.
The effort to defeat the repeal effort crossed political lines. Standing Up for New Hampshire Families was a bipartisan group that formed, with help from some marquee names in the state, solely to defeat this bill.
“Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry. Our opponents have been crowing about getting their two-thirds, but in the end, it’s clear they couldn’t muster the votes,” said Craig Stowell, a Republican, and co-chairman of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, in a statement. “This is a victory for our supporters — the majority of Granite Staters who oppose any roll back of marriage equality — because they reached out time and again and told lawmakers to leave this law alone.”
The significance of this issue not passing the House, with this legislative makeup, wasn’t lost on Stowell.
“This was our opponents’ best shot and they blew it,” he continued. “This was supposed to be the most favorable legislative climate for repeal and they couldn’t even get a majority.”
Still, Standing Up for New Hampshire Families warned the work might not be done. The issue could resurface in the future.
The national opposition
The National Organization for Marriage naturally wasn’t pleased that the measure failed in New Hampshire.
“We are very disappointed in the failure of the New Hampshire House of Representatives to pass compromise legislation restoring marriage and providing for civil unions for same-sex couples,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. “This was the law prior to marriage being hijacked by legislators who accepted hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from gay marriage supporters without ever telling voters they intended to redefine marriage. We consider any vote cast against HB 437 to be a vote in favor of gay marriage, and we will act to hold every legislator accountable for such a vote.”
That accountability piece is key. The group is known for being able to attack legislators, Republicans and Democrats, who vote for same-sex marriage. We’ll see how that plays out in elections this year.
“This is a sad day for New Hampshire families who in 2010 had elected what they thought was a solid pro-marriage majority,” Brown said. “They were once again let down by politicians who promised them one thing and then left them at the altar.... These legislators will be held accountable.”
But the sense is that this Legislature was compiled as a response to Democrats’ spending, not that voters in New Hampshire were up in arms over social issues like this. Some are, without a doubt, but for the most part, this vote in the House probably fell in line with the majority of people in New Hampshire.