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  • From left, Robert Gibson and his husband Joseph Marquette, listen as a woman speaks out in defense of gay marriage during a hearing on whether or not to repeal gay marriage in Representative's Hall at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. Three bills were presented during the hearing, all repealing gay marriage.

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
  • Rep. David Bates, a Republican from Windham, asks the House Judiciary Committee to consider House Bill 437, which would repeal gay marriage, during a hearing in Representative's Hall at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. Rep. Bates told the committee that leaders in the Republican party would be ready to stand behind the repeal of gay marriage during the 2012 legislative year.

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
  • Coloring books are provided during a hearing at the State House on whether or not to repeal gay marriage on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
  • Rep. Peter Bolster, a Republican from Alton, left, explains House Bill 569, which would get rid of marriage licenses altogether in New Hampshire, to Jim Verschueren, from Dover, right, during the hearing on whether or not to repeal gay marriage in Representative's Hall at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011. Verschueren, who was previously married to a woman of 32 years who died of cancer, is now married to a man. "I've always known that I was attracted to both men and women," he said. Verschueren said that he attended the hearing because he felt like both of his marriages should receive the honor and recognition, and celebration that they deserve.

    (Katie Barnes/ Monitor Staff)
Friday, February 18, 2011

Hundreds pack statehouse to fight repeal of same-sex marriage law

CONCORD – House Republican leaders and those running the key policy committee want to punt a bill that would repeal same-sex marriage, but supporters of the 2-year-old law still unleashed an impressive show of force Thursday.

Their message: Kill these bills now.

Gay rights backers jammed into all the seats of Representatives Hall and packed the gallery in an effort to sink two bills to repeal the law and a third to set up “nonmarriage,” domestic union for same-sex couples.

Lisa Christie, 58, of Nashua, married Kathy, her partner of 22 years on Jan. 2, 2010, the second day the law took effect.

“I didn’t imagine what a profound experience it would be. This was the happiest day in my life,” Christie said during an interview Thursday. “I think New Hampshire is on the forefront. Someday people will look at this and say what was the big deal.”

Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, ended any suspense, caving in to House GOP leaders who want the House Judiciary Committee to retain these bills and would block any final action on them until next January.

“I have been assured the effort to restore traditional marriage will have the full support of House leadership when the time comes to take it up next year,” Bates said.

Until Thursday, Bates wanted the Legislature to vote to repeal the law this year and then try to overcome a certain veto from Gov. John Lynch.

Failing that, Bates and other traditional marriage supporters would then pursue a constitutional amendment enshrining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

New Hampshire is one of only five states where same-sex marriage is legal and the only one where the governor who signed it – Lynch – is still in office.

The National Organization for Marriage and Cornerstone Action New Hampshire spent more than $1.2 million trying to defeat Lynch, who won an historic, fourth term last fall.

“’The majority of people as well as the majority of courts have rejected the idea that same-sex marriage is a basic human right,” said Maggie Gallagher, National Organization for Marriage co-founder and its current president.

“It is not discrimination to treat different things differently.”

Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford, represents Merrimack and said he’s a “proud Christian” who supports repeal of same-sex marriage.

“Government should strive to support only the best, most ideal household arrangement,” White said. “We should be setting the bar high. Thousands upon thousands of years of human history are being turned on their head.”

But Robin Lunn, of Milford, executive director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists led a steady parade of Episcopalean, Unitarian, Congregational and Baptist clergy embracing the current law.

“This was and still is the right thing to do,” said the Rev. Jed Reardon, pastor of the South Congregational Church in Concord. “I am calling on you to be courageous and preserve the rights of all of our citizens. Repealing marriage equality would be a great injustice for all those who have been legally married under the law.”

It was not hard to tell which side dominated the day Thursday.

Gay rights supporters sported white, red and blue stickers that read “Equality-No Repeal” and most were decked out in red shirts that filled most of the legislative seats in the chamber.

Among those who signed up one way or another, 545 wanted the repeal bills killed and only 45 wanted to pass them.

Harts Location Democrat Ed Butler, a former legislator, vowed to bring back a phalanx of supporters until the Legislature gives up on repeal efforts.

“This is critical to us. We are here today to not get us rid of our equality. We will be here next year, we will be here every year we need to be here until this is no longer an issue,” Butler said.

The pro-gay marriage audience responded throughout the day to speakers on their side with silent, waving fingers after Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Rowe outlawed loud applause.

Cornerstone Action Executive Director Kevin Smith was not phased by being outnumbered.

Smith pointed out his side turned out a bigger majority among the crowd in 2009, the same year lawmakers ignored that showing and legalized same-sex marriage.

“This is all about what’s done in committees, and I’m fully confident that when this committee gets down to it next year, they will embrace traditional marriage and repeal this law,” Smith said.

Rep. George Lambert, R-Hudson, helped lead a small band of lawmakers including Rep. Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, for the domestic union bill. It that would give gay couples more than 40 rights married couples have, without the title.

“Marriage should be protected by churches and licensed and regulated by the state,” Lambert said. “We shouldn’t register and define marriage any more than we should define a car we register.”

But Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, D-Manchester, got emotional in giving his first public remarks as an openly gay legislator.

“I realized it’s okay to be what they are. Everybody must be what they are and the aura of this room tells me that,” Vaillancourt said. “Since gay marriage has become law, not one straight person in this state has been hurt.”

Vaillancourt nearly wept in speaking of his brother’s delight at watching his son snow-sledding outside.

“I don’t get to realize that joy; straight people have joy that gay people don’t have. Do not take away the joy of gay people being married,” Vaillancourt added.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.