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    State Reps. Dan Itse, left of Fremont, and Paul Mirski of Enfield take a break while the debate continues in the Statehouse over gay marriage Wednesday evening, March 21, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    The New Hampshire Legislature runs through a series of votes Wednesday morning, March 21, 2012, at the Statehouse in Concord.

    Concord resident Marcia Blackman was a lone demonstrator on the Statehouse steps Wednesday, March 21, 2012, as the legislature debated a same-sex marriage bill inside.

    State Rep. Shawn Jasper of Hudson speaks to the House as a debate continues in the Statehouse over gay marriage Wednesday evening, March 21, 2012.

    Nashua Representative Kevin Avard addresses fellow legislators Wednesday, March 21, 2012, during a debate on same sex marriage.
Thursday, March 22, 2012

House kills effort to repeal same-sex marriage, law to stay on the books

CONCORD – The New Hampshire House of Representatives dealt social conservatives a shocking setback Wednesday, killing a proposed bill to repeal the 2009 law that made marriage legal between gay and lesbian couples.

The 3-1 majority that voters granted in 2010 to Republicans in the 400-person House appeared likely to produce enough votes to repeal same-sex marriage.

But one by one, many prominent House Republicans said even while supporting traditional marriage, they would not support taking rights away from gay and lesbians granted by lawmakers and Gov. John Lynch three years ago.

“The Legislature has given rights to certain members of our community and now we are asked to take them away,” said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, who voted against the same-sex marriage law in 2009.

Rep. Michael Ball, R-Manchester, said the discrimination against same-sex couples is equivalent to the old ban in southern states against interracial couples marrying or even letting black and white children attend the same public schools.

“These folks are just people like you are; they just want the same things that you want,” Ball said. “This bill needs to be put down.”

Rep. Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, said repealing same-sex marriage is to declare the views of one religious group are preferred to another.

“People should be free to follow their own beliefs and their own conscience without government standing in their way,” Coffey said.

The bill’s demise was assured after rank-and-file members through nine recorded votes refused to amend the bill in any way.

What was left was a final vote to repeal same-sex marriage but didn’t offer civil unions or any alternative for gays and lesbian couples in the future.

The stripped-down bill failed badly, 202-133.

The House then voted, 211-116, to kill it outright.

The bill’s author, Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, failed to convince the House to attach to this repeal a non-binding referendum that if adopted would have appeared on the statewide ballot this November.

“The purpose of that is to find out once and for all what do the people of the state want with regards to marriage,” Bates said.

The altered bill would have delayed the effective date of the law’s repeal until next March 31.

Bates said this would give time for lawmakers to abandon the repeal plan if a clear majority supported the existing law.

But the House voted, 188-162, to reject the referendum.

“We are the most representative body in the country, if not the world. If we feel the need to go to our constituents and ask them a question, we are clearly in trouble,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, in opposing the referendum.

Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester, said 30 states voting on changes to the constitution opposed same-sex marriage.

“Why are we scared of the people of New Hampshire speaking to this issue? I don’t know; I am not,” Groen said.

Whatever the House action, this bill faced a grim future with Lynch already having promised he would veto if it got to his desk.

House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has declared that keeping state spending low and helping create a job growth economic climate are his top priorities for this election-year session.

O’Brien said at a rally against same-sex marriage last week that it’s time to return to legalizing marriage only for male and female couples.

House GOP leaders made no attempt to browbeat colleagues to support repeal of same-sex marriage.

Ball, chairman of the GOP committee in the state’s largest city, opposes repeal.

“I didn’t feel one bit of pressure, and I credit the speaker and his leadership team for that,” he said.

Critics of the existing law maintain the then-Democratic majority in the Legislature rammed through the same-sex marriage law two years after lawmakers decided they should have civil unions instead.

The bill would have kept in place marriage for the more than 1,900 gay and lesbian couples who tied the knot since New Hampshire legalized marriage for them.

In the future, the bill permitted gay couples to only enter into civil unions.

This legislation had fierce and costly lobbying on both sides.

The National Organization for Marriage opposes civil unions for gay couples but accepted this bill as a compromise and spent at least $250,000 on media advertising, emails and robo-calls to mobilize supporters.

Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a pro-same sex marriage group, sponsored its own TV and newspaper ads putting together an impressive, 300-person council that includes Republican lawmakers, educators, business owners and noted celebrities.

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.