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March, 21st 2012

GOP-controlled NH House rejects effort to nix gay marriage, OK civil unions instead

– Liz Mair

From the AP, about an hour ago:

New Hampshire lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have made their state legislature the first one to repeal a gay marriage law, handing gay-rights supporters a key victory in the Northeast, where same-sex marriage is prevalent.

The state House voted 211-116 to kill the measure, ending a push by its new Republican majority to rescind New Hampshire’s 2-year-old gay marriage law. Nevertheless, both sides are pledging to continue fighting into the fall elections.

Repeal opponents hoped to solidify what they argue is public support for gay marriage, while supporters hoped to reverse the law in a region of the country where gay-rights groups have strength.

“Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry,” said Craig Stowell, co-chairman of Standing up For New Hampshire Families. Stowell said the House, where Republicans hold a 189-seat advantage, was supposed to give conservatives their best shot at repeal. “They blew it. This was supposed to be the most favorable legislative climate for repeal and they couldn’t even get a majority.”

In my view, New Hampshire Republicans who voted against repealing gay marriage made the right call. Gay marriage doesn't represent a threat to any individual liberties so long as robust conscience protections are in place, whereas the repeal of it would undermine a prior expansion of individual liberties (even if civil unions were permitted).

As the state's motto goes, "Live Free or Die." New Hampshire's GOP-controlled House, home to plenty of conservatives, decided to keep living free today, though I doubt the fight over this issue will end here.

UPDATE: Dan Blatt at Gay Patriot notes that:

the GOP leadership did push repeal, but the rank and file did not entirely fall into line. This is pretty significant considering how small the districts are in the Granite State; most representatives know their constituents. They’ll have to deal with them directly when the legislature is not in session (and even when it is). Thus this vote is considerably more significant than a vote in a larger state where legislators contact with their constituents is often filtered through their staff and special interests.

Dan is right. This also draws my mind to another important point, thinking about how this plays out from here.

Word a few months back was that gay marriage opponents might try to put the issue to voters this November, presumably thinking this would give them the advantage we now know they lacked in the legislative arena.

I'm not clear on whether or not that remains a possibility, but assuming purely for the sake of argument that it is one, it begs a question: If Granite State GOP House members who, as Dan notes, are not nearly as far removed from their constituents as most state legislators are (the New Hampshire General Court packs a whopping 424 members, only 24 of whom sit in the Senate) were willing to risk the consequences of supporting gay marriage, then doesn't their willingness to vote for marriage perhaps indicate that putting it to the people might be a riskier proposition than opponents are thinking or than we've seen in previous gay-marriage-on-the-ballot situations? Especially since at least one poll often cited by gay marriage supporters showed that Granite Staters overwhelmingly are OK with gay marriage?

Just a thought, even if it is a purely intellectual exercise.

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