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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gay-marriage law assault perplexing

Telegraph Editorial

One of the more contentious battles confronting the New Hampshire Legislature when it returns to work in January will be the misguided effort to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriages. Put on hold earlier this year so lawmakers could concentrate on more serious issues, such as the state budget, taxes and creating jobs, this pointless distraction is back on the legislative agenda for reasons that escape rational explanation.

New Hampshire is one of six states, along with the District of Columbia, that allow same-sex marriages. Another 13 states permit civil unions. Elsewhere in the country, same-sex marriages and/or civil unions are prohibited by either statute or constitutional amendment. The same-sex marriage repeal legislation up for review next month seeks to bring back civil unions, which were legalized in New Hampshire in 2007, and grandfather existing same-sex marriages. The state estimates 1,800 gay couples have been married here in the past two years.

Make no mistake, the only reason the anti-same-sex marriage legislation exists at all is because conservative Republicans were emboldened by their landslide victory in 2010. Huge majorities in the House and Senate created an irresistible opportunity to push mischievous, oppressive, veto-proof forays into statutory social engineering.

It would be one thing if there were evidence the current law has had negative repercussions for the state or its citizens. There isn’t. No jobs have been lost. No revenues have been compromised. No little children have been traumatized. If anything, the law has bolstered the state’s respected libertarian reputation.

More importantly, the law has broad public support. In April, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center reported 55 percent of state residents support same-sex marriages, while 39 percent opposed them. This followed an earlier poll that found Granite State residents oppose the GOP’s effort to repeal same-sex marriages by 62 to 29 percent.

These results are consistent with other polls. A Public Policy Polling survey in July found 51 percent of New Hampshire voters favor legal same-sex marriages while 38 percent oppose them. It also found 80 percent support some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples, with marriage favored by 45 percent and civil unions by 35 percent. Only 19 percent of the respondents opposed any legal recognition of same-sex couples.

In total disregard for this overwhelming evidence of public support, Republicans are marching forward with their crusade. The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 in October to recommended the bill’s passage. The full House is expected to concur. Passage is expected in the Senate as well, The big question is whether the margins of victory will be large enough to sustain Gov. John Lynch’s promised veto.

Not much has changed from earlier this year when the same-sex marriage repeal effort was pushed aside in favor of more pressing issues. There are still big holes in the state budget, businesses are still struggling to survive and too many people are out of work. What Republicans considered a priority in January is unfinished business today.

The words of House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, ring as true now as they did 11 months ago when he described the same-sex repeal effort as a controversial “assault” on the GOP’s agenda that had the potential to deflect attention from “New Hampshire’s outstanding financial issues.”