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Religious Tolerance logo

Same sex marriage (SSM) in New Hampshire

The NH public supports SSM.
House & Senate pass SSM bill.

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Public heavily supports SSM:

During the week of 2009-APR-20, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3 to 2 to send the bill to the whole Senate with a recommendation that it be voted down.

Just before the vote in the full Senate, the University of New Hampshire Survey Center released a statewide poll that found that:

bullet55% of adult residents support SSM;
bullet39% oppose SSM;
bullet6% don't know or refused to answer. 1

Bill passes Senate:

The bill was headed for failure in the Senate when a last-minute amendment was made to strengthen protections that granted immunity from prosecution to religious groups and organizations who want to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The amendment was made to:

bulletGuarantee that clergy who wish to discriminate against same-sex couples may refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies without risking legal action. and
bulletAllowing opposite-sex couples to select the words "bride" and "groom" on their marriage licenses instead of the generic "spouse."

This increased support for the bill somewhat. It was passed with a vote of 13 to 11 on 2009-APR-29. 2

The House and Senate bills were then harmonized and sent to Governor John Lynch (D) for a signature or veto. If he vetoes the bill, it is very unlikely that either the House or Senate could override the veto.

Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposing marriage by same-sex couples, said that they would intensively lobby the governor to veto the bill. Brown, apparently unaware of the recent public opinion poll, said:

"This vote is in no way representative of what folks in New Hampshire want. ... If the governor is going to stand by his words he will veto this bill." 3

Mo Baxley, executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, views the bill as a fair compromise. She said:

"It is in keeping with New Hampshire?s live-free-or-die tradition to stand up for individual liberties and against discrimination of any kind.  ... I have to say, America is at a turning point." 3

In reality, 54% of the legislators supported SSM, while 59% of those members of the public who have an opinion on SSM support it.

Following the Senate vote, Governor Lynch said:

"I recognize that the issue of same-sex marriage is intensely passionate and personal, and raises strong emotions on all sides. I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples. This was accomplished through the passage of the civil unions law two years ago. To achieve further real progress, the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions." 1

The governor appears to reject the belief among many civil libertarians and marriage equality supporters that civil unions are inherently inferior to marriage. This appears to be a widespread belief; one only has to ask a few opposite-sex married couples whether they would be willing to trade their marriage certificate for a civil union certificate.

The federal "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) withholds over 1,100 rights and privileges from same-sex married couples that are automatically given to opposite-sex married couples. Supporters of SSM hope that if a sufficient number of states legalize SSM that the DOMA law can be repealed.

Revised bill passes house:

The House voted to agree with changes to the House Bill 436 that had been made by the Senate. The vote was 178 to 167. The final version of the bill to authorize SSM passed the legislature on MAY-07 and sent to Governor John Lynch (D) who will either sign it into law, veto it, or do nothing and let it become law without his signature.

On MAY-05, he said:

"I have a responsibility as governor to do what I think is best for the people of New Hampshire. I will continue to talk with the Legislature and with the people of New Hampshire about that bill. ... We have been flooded with calls. People can't even get through. The phone lines are basically jammed. ... I'm not going to be guided by the numbers of calls that come into the office. That will not have an impact on my decision." 4

Cornerstone Policy Research Action (CPR-Action) has been airing TV ads in an attempt to prevent marriage equality in the state. Spokesperson Kevin Smith  called on the governor to ignore the will of the legislature and veto the bill in accordance with his past statements on limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

House Minority leader Rep. Sherman Packard, (R-Londonderry) said:

"We have opposed this right along. We think it's leading New Hampshire down the wrong path, and I don't think that this is what voters intended last year when they voted for change."

Representative Kris Roberts, (D-Keene), supports marriage equality, saying:

"I don't see how any two people who love each other could see their family affected by the passage of this bill ... People's hopes and dreams rely on us doing the right thing and moving on." 4

Representative Peter Bolster (R-Alton) is concerned that religious conservatives who provide wedding services to the public and want to discriminate against same-sex couples would risk lawsuits under the new law. He said:

"This does not protect the Christian conference center, the church with a social hall, or its individual members who run limousine or photographic services who may conscientiously object to participating in a same-sex marriage.

"Representative David Pierce, (D-Hanover), who has a civil union partner, said:

"This struggle is about what kind of country and what kind of state we want. We can have a country that respects personal freedom and the ability of an individual to pursue happiness, or a country where government dictates to us how we live our lives."

If passed, the law would take effect on 2010-JAN-01.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "NH gov mum on marriage bill," 365gay.copm. 2009-APR-30, at: http://www.365gay.com/
  2. Kathleen Gilbert, "New Hampshire Senate approves same-sex marriage," lifeSiteNews, 2009-APR-29, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  3. Abby Goodnough, "New Hampshire Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill," 2009-APR-29, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  4. Tom Fahey, "Gay marriage bill: All eyes on Lynch," Union Leader, 2009-MAY-07, at: http://www.unionleader.com/

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-APR-19
Latest update: 2009-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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