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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bill would repeal gay marriage

CONCORD – A group of state legislators endorsed a bill Wednesday to repeal the same-sex marriage law and replace it with civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

If enacted, the proposed bill (HB 437) would not dissolve the roughly 1,500 marriages of gay and lesbian couples since New Hampshire approved same-sex marriage in 2009.

Marriage for gay and lesbian couples would be outlawed once this proposed new law would take effect.

The new civil union would permit any two people older than 18 to enter into a contract that carries with it benefits such as hospital visitation, property and child support obligations.

Rep. Frances Potter, D-Concord, said gay marriages in N.H. have caused society no harm but this amended bill surely would.

“The passage of a repeal would not end controversy; it would create two kinds of gay couples,” Potter said.

Rep. Donald McClarren, R-Nashua, disagreed, saying he has been harmed by the state’s gay marriage law. “I am not injury-free. The reason I am not injury-free is because of my religious beliefs.”

Gov. John Lynch has said he would veto any attempt to repeal the same-sex marriage law.

Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, the bill’s sponsor, said he wants the Legislature to adopt this amended measure next spring.

An alternative course would be to pursue an amendment to the state constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage, he added.

Bates said he’ll decide in the coming weeks whether to submit his proposed amendment for action in the 2012 or drop the idea altogether.

Same-sex marriage supporters condemned this plan but pointed out Bates and others were admitting they lack the votes to repeal same-sex marriage with nothing to replace it.

“The Bates amendment is a trick. It calls them civil unions but would take the state back to a time before there were civil unions,” said Tyler Deaton, a spokesman for Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a bipartisan group supporting same-sex marriage.

The civil union under this proposed bill would give same-sex couples fewer rights than they had when civil unions were legal in 2007, gay marriage advocates maintain.

In 2009, lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage. At that time, gay couples in a civil union were given time to decide if they wanted to be married or not before civil unions were repealed.

Gay marriage opponents praised the House subcommittee for coming up with a proposal that stands a better chance of winning approval before the full House than a simple repeal of same-sex marriage law.

“We think that the amendment passed by the subcommittee today represents a common-sense compromise to what has been a very divisive issue over the last three years,” Cornerstone Action NH executive director Kevin Smith said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that this amended bill will enjoy bipartisan support and is a solution that both sides can live with.”

Mo Baxley leads the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition that organized support for the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage.

This change would likely be challenged in court because it treats gay couples differently under the law, she maintained.

“There would be lawsuits all over the place with this,” Baxley said.

Next month, the full House Judiciary Committee will vote on the committee’s 3-1 endorsement. It would then go to the House of Representatives for a vote early next year.

Last winter, House Republican leaders angered some opponents of gay marriage by deciding the issue would not come to the House for a vote in 2011.

House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, agreed the focus this year should be adopting the two-year state budget and adopting policies that help the state during a struggling economy.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.