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Religious Tolerance logo

Same sex marriage (SSM) in New Hampshire

Same-sex marriage
comes to New Hampshire

Sponsored link.

Amended bill initially fails in the House:

An amended bill, HB 436, was prepared that would protect churches and church workers from lawsuits in the event that they want to discriminate against same-sex couples who wish to be married. The amendments would grant immunity to pastors, organists, etc. from penalties assigned by the Human Rights Commission.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a vote of 3 to 2, along strict party lines. On 2009-MAY-20, the full Senate approved the changes by a vote of 14 to 10.

On the same day, the House rejected the bill very narrowly by a vote of 188 to 186. Opponents tried to kill the bill at this point, but were not successful. The House then voted 207 to 168 to form a "committee of conference" which will be made up of members of the House and Senate who voted for the bill. Their task was to modify the bill so that it will pass both houses. 1,2

Some comments:

bulletMarty Rouse, national field director of the Human Rights Campaign noted that the bill remained viable. He said:

"While the House voted not to adopt today's version of the amended marriage bill by a very close vote of 186-188, clearly the members of the House want to see marriage equality passed based on the strong vote not to kill it entirely."

bulletSteve Vaillancourt (R), who is openly gay, expressed opposition to the amendment. He said that the amendment was a step backwards that would write into New Hampshire law permission for churches to discriminate.
bulletReferring to the narrow defeat of the bill, Kevin Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research -- a group opposed to marriage equality -- said: "We are pleased that common sense prevailed."
bulletSylvia Larsen (D), the Senate's president said: "We recognize this is part of the normal process of passing significant legislation and I look forward to working with my House colleagues on this bill." 3

Bill finally succeeds; SSM bill is signed into law:

On 2009-JUN-03, the House and Senate were able to establish compromise wording on the SSM bill that both could vote in favor of. The Senate had a party-line vote. The House passed the bill with a healthy 22 vote margin.

Cornerstone Policy Research broadcast a TV ad titled "His Word," in an attempt to persuade the Governor Lynch to veto the bill.

The governor did not follow CPR's advice. He signed the bill into law on the evening of 2009-JUN-03. He also stated that he is in favor of the federal government repealing its Defense of Marriage Act so that married same-sex couples can obtain the approximately 1,100 benefits and obligations that are currently reserved as special privileges for opposite-sex married couples. 12

Kevin Smith, Executive Director of CPR Action stated:

"The Governor evidently has no problem misleading the voters of this state, while giving into the outside special interests pushing this radical agenda. ... In one fell swoop of the pen, the Governor managed to not only sign an unpopular piece of legislation, but did so while breaking his trust with the citizens of this state - a move we are confident that the voters will not soon forget." 4

New England Cable News (NECN) reported:

New Hampshire thus became the seventh U.S. state to legalize marriage for all loving committed couples, both opposite-sex and same-sex. Six other states had preceded New Hampshire's action: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Idaho, and Vermont, although California's SSM was terminated by a very narrow vote in Proposition 8.

Apparently Governor Lynch did not get all that he asked for. The law will not protect individuals and small businesses who wish to discriminate against same-sex couples. For example, justices of the peace, restaurant owners, flower vendors, wedding photographers, etc. who normally provide the public with their services but who want to refuse them to same-sex couples might have problems with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.

Same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses on 2010-JAN-02. A year later, all civil unions in New Hampshire will automatically be converted into civil marriages.

Can the law be later invalidated?:

Janson Wu, a staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) outlined several methods by which the state Constitution could be amended in order to invalidate the SSM bill that has been signed into law:

bulletThe Constitution has a provision for a voter-initiated constitutional amendment, like California's Proposition system.
bulletThe General Court (a.k.a. the state legislature) consisting of the House of Representatives and Senate, could pass an amendment in the unlikely event that they could achieve a super-majority vote (60% or more).
bulletThe voters could initiate a constitutional convention as soon as 2012 to modify the constitution to incorporate discrimination into its wording.

However, each path would have to go to the voters for final ratification. This would require a two-thirds vote to pass. 5

Kevin Smith of Cornerstone Policy Research said that his group is considering two actions in attack the new law:

bulletTo place a non-binding referendum on the 2010-MAR ballot.
bulletTo mount a campaign to place "... pro-family, pro-marriage folks back in the Legislature, and hopefully repeal this law." By "pro-family" they appear to mean legislators who are opposed to the recognition of families headed by same-sex couples; by "pro-marriage" they appear to mean legislators who are opposed to the recognition of loving, committed same-sex relationships. 6

References used:

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

  1. "New Hampshire House Rejects Amended Gay Marriage Bill," Fox News, 2009-MAY-20, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  2. "NH House votes to finish the job!" New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, undated, at: http://nhftm.org/  This is a temporary listing.
  3. Andrew J.Manuse, "Gay-marriage bill stalls in New Hampshire," Reuters, 2009-MAY-20, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  4. "Governor Lynch signs gay marriage bill," CPR Action, undated,
  5. David Badash, "Majority Of New Hampshire Voters Favor Gay Marriage," The New Civil Rights Movement, 2009-APR-28, at: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/
  6. "New Hampshire Legalizes Homosexual Marriage," CitizenLink, 2009-JUN-03, at: http://www.citizenlink.org/

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-APR-19
Latest update: 2009-JUN-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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