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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Focus on budget, not gay marriage

Telegraph Editorial

The president of the state Senate and speaker of the House – both Souhegan Valley Republicans – stressed in recent interviews that economic issues will be the focus of the incoming GOP majorities as the Legislature begins its new session.

We hope they can get that message across to the rank-and-file, since at least four draft bills have already been filed by Republicans seeking to repeal same-sex marriage in New Hampshire.

As reported in The Telegraph of Jan. 2, one of the bills, still in its initial phases, would revert state law to civil unions rather than full marriage rights, while another calls for a full constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

It’s unclear what effect any of the bills, if passed, would have on the estimated 1,500 gay couples married in New Hampshire since the law was approved in 2008. The Democratic-led Legislature at the time passed the law with 198 votes in the House and 14 in the Senate, making New Hampshire the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Any effort to revive the debate and distract lawmakers from more pressing issues is contrary to the priorities of the voters and the stated objectives of GOP leaders now and during the campaign.

In an interview with The Cabinet of Milford on Nov. 11, Bragdon said the election that swept the Republican Party into control of both houses of the Legislature was a clear sign from voters that the economy – particularly the New Hampshire budget – are priorities, not social issues.

When asked last week about the pending legislation on gay marriage, he was decidedly indifferent.

“To be honest, I haven’t given it too much thought,” he said. “It might come up at some point, but it’s not one of the primary concerns on the minds of most voters.”

Speaker William O’Brien echoed that sentiment.

“This is not a focus of what we’re doing the first half of this term,” he told The Telegraph.

That may not stop lawmakers like state Rep. Leo Pepino, a Manchester Republican, who introduced one of the proposals.

With a 297-103 advantage in the House, and a 19-5 divide in the Senate, Republicans have the two-thirds majority necessary to override Gov. John Lynch, who has promised to veto any repeal. Lynch initially opposed gay marriage but recognized the will of the Legislature and signed the bill into law.

With their veto-proof majority in hand, gay marriage opponents are likely to press ahead.

“I think we have the votes (to repeal),” Pepino said last week. “We have a lot of really good conservatives, and a good conservative doesn’t believe in gay marriage. … It’s a matter of ethics.”

Pepino appears to have confused ethics with religion. He is certainly free to oppose gay marriage on the basis of religion, and no religion, church or denomination can be forced to perform or sanction a gay marriage. On the other hand, no church should be prohibited from sanctioning a gay marriage, and state law now allows for a marriage certificate for gay couples.

Pepino and other like-minded lawmakers determined to revive this issue are not acting on ethics; they are acting out of a desire to force their religious beliefs on others.

The Legislature has more pressing business and needs to reject these initiatives outright. Reviving the issue now distracts lawmakers from more important matters and could throw hundreds of married couples into a legal limbo for months, if not years.

Republican lawmakers inclined to take that tack might want to heed the advice of the newly elected Senate president, who told The Cabinet: “There hasn’t been a single discussion (about gay marriage) in the Republican group. … We are talking about how we are going to (cut spending) and work with Gov. Lynch.”