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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Same-sex marriage vote proves nothing

Telegraph Editorial

An organization calling itself “Let NH Vote” had hoped to make a point at town meetings across the state in March by promoting a nonbinding referendum calling for a statewide vote on gay marriage.

Let NH Vote would like us to believe their only objective was to enable the voter’s voice to be heard.

But it’s fairly obvious that the ultimate goal of the group is a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would require a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Representatives and Senate, followed by a two-thirds majority vote in a statewide election.

If supporters of Let NH Vote think the results of their town meeting initiative point to the likely success of such an endeavor, they are mistaken.

Nor can supporters of gay marriage – or “marriage equality,” as they call it – claim that the results show majority support for the actions of the state Legislature and governor in passing gay marriage legislation.

Although both sides claim victory from the votes taken in 140 New Hampshire communities, it was, to quote Shakespeare, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The warrant article was a complete distraction from the business of town meeting and failed to advance a constitutional amendment in any meaningful way.

Of the 140 towns that had petitions successfully placed on the warrant or ballot, 48 tabled or amended the language to kill the petition while 33 killed it outright. Only 60 of the 140 towns at issue approved the measure.

That is pretty weak support for something that would need to meet the standard for a constitutional amendment in New Hampshire. Anything less, including a nonbinding statewide referendum, would be pointless.

Not surprisingly, in this age of political double-speak, Let NH Vote interprets these results as a victory by dismissing the 48 communities where the measure was tabled.

The Let NH Vote Web site lists only the 93 towns where a vote actually took place, ignoring the 48 that tabled the measure, when everyone knows that under parliamentary procedure tabling in this context is the same as killing.

Using its twisted logic, you can accurately say that twice as many towns voted for the petition as voted against it. It’s easy to come up with a statement that is factually accurate but not true.

Some point to the fact that the Let NH Vote petition was defeated at most traditional town meetings but passed in most SB2 towns where voting takes place by secret ballot.

Some town meetings considered the measure with a public show of hands, but others voted by secret ballot with varied results.

We do know that the measure was hotly debated from the town meeting floor in many of the communities surrounding Nashua, while voters in SB2 towns did not have the benefit of that debate on voting day.

Locally, of traditional town meeting communities, Brookline and Hollis tabled the measure. SB2 communities that had the petition on the ballot – Amherst, Litchfield and Mont Vernon – approved it.

Given that six traditional town meeting towns and six SB2 towns have yet to hold their votes in the state, and none of the state’s 13 cities hold town meetings, this was the most unscientific poll imaginable.

If anything, the results suggest that a constitutional amendment is unlikely. The same Legislature that approved gay marriage is not going to promote such an amendment, and even if it did, it’s unlikely that two-thirds of voters in the state would support it.

Some states, like Maine, allow for a statewide referendum to overturn the acts of the state Legislature by simple majority.

In New Hampshire, we put more faith in representative democracy, requiring that we either elect new lawmakers or amend the constitution to bring about such changes.

On this issue, a constitutional change is difficult and unlikely. As regards the election of new lawmakers, time will tell.