9:01pm

Tue February 14, 2012
Governing

N.H. Lawmakers Consider Rolling Back Gay Marriage

Originally published on Wed February 15, 2012 10:31 am

As several states debate measures to legalize gay marriage, New Hampshire is considering a repeal of its same-sex marriage law. The repeal has the backing of some top leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature. But rescinding rights is never easy, particularly in a state that takes its liberties seriously.

Supporters of New Hampshire's 2-year-old same-sex marriage law like to stress its purity, that it was enacted without a court order or the threat of one. So do its opponents. For them it's a reminder that if a Democrat-dominated Statehouse could vote in gay marriage, a Republican-dominated one may be able to vote it out.

Republican state Rep. David Bates, the author of the repeal bill, led a recent rally on the Statehouse steps.

"I think it's time to move back, back to the true meaning of marriage," Bates said.

Moving back will take some doing. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has promised to veto the repeal. But with New Hampshire Republicans — whose party platform defines marriage as between one man and one woman — enjoying veto-proof majorities in Concord, activists on both sides of the issue are taking little for granted.

Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a group that supports gay marriage, says it has placed more than 15,000 calls targeting GOP state representatives seen as open to keeping the current law. The group has also hired a half-dozen lobbyists and deployed high-profile supporters like novelist Jodi Picoult and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

"In 2010, the voters — particularly in New Hampshire — said, 'Government, get out of our lives,' " Mehlman says. " 'Live free or die,' to coin a phrase. So, I think the biggest concern I would have if I were a state official would be, 'I am ignoring the will of the people of New Hampshire.' "

Recent polls show New Hampshire voters oppose repealing gay marriage by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, but conservative Republicans see the repeal vote as a litmus test.

"I will do anything financially permissible and legally permissible to make socially liberal Republican legislators accountable," says Ted Maravelias, chairman of a New Hampshire political action committee that's raising money to oppose members of the GOP who vote to support same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage has already set aside $250,000 for the same purpose. Few lawmakers like to admit that such threats work, but many agree they'd just as soon skip the entire issue.

"I would be just as happy if it did not come up, but when I ran and people asked me about it, I said I would support traditional marriage," says Spec Bowers, one of the several dozen libertarian-minded Republicans swept into office in 2010.

These new lawmakers could end up deciding this issue. But on a matter that involves basic rights, representatives can be hard to pigeonhole. David Welch, a 14-term Republican, voted against the current gay marriage law, and says he still believes marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals. But he is adamant that revisiting the issue is wrong for New Hampshire.

"If you have given a right as we did, without my support, to take it back would be disenfranchising those folks who took advantage of it," he says, "and it would create a wedge."

The speaker of the New Hampshire House supports repealing the gay marriage law, but has yet to announce when it will be put to a vote.

Copyright 2013 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.nhpr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, Washington became the seventh state to legalize gay marriage, and at the same time New Hampshire began considering a repeal of its same-sex marriage law. That proposal has the backing of some top leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature. But as New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports, rescinding rights is never easy in a state that takes its liberties so seriously.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Supporters of New Hampshire's two-year-old same-sex marriage law like to stress its purity, that it was enacted without a court order or the threat of one. So do its opponents: For them, it's a reminder that if a Democrat-dominated statehouse could vote in gay marriage, a Republican-dominated one may be able to vote it out.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID BATES: Well, I want to ask you: What do you think? Is this debate over?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No.

ROGERS: That's GOP Representative David Bates, the author of the repeal bill, leading a recent rally on the statehouse steps.

BATES: Do you think it's time to move on?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No.

BATES: I think it's time to move back, back to the true meaning of marriage.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROGERS: Moving back will take some doing. Democratic Governor John Lynch has promised to veto the repeal. But with New Hampshire Republicans - whose party platform defines marriage as between one man and one woman - enjoying veto-proof majorities in Concord, activists on both sides of the issue are taking little for granted.

JONATHAN LAX: Hi, Beth. My name is Jonathan, and I am calling to ask if you support marriage for gay and lesbian couples in New Hampshire. Great. So do I, and we've identified your state representative as someone who's currently on the fence.

ROGERS: Jonathan Lax is a volunteer with the pro-same sex marriage group Standing Up for New Hampshire Families. The groups says it's placed more than 15,000 calls targeting GOP state reps seen as open to keeping current law. The group's also hired a half-dozen lobbyists and deployed high-profile supporters. These include locals like novelist Jodi Picoult, and not-so-locals, like former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

KEN MEHLMAN: In 2010, the voters, particularly in New Hampshire, said: Government, get out of our lives. Live free or die, to coin a phrase. So I think the biggest concern I would have were I a state official would be I'm ignoring the will of the people of New Hampshire.

ROGERS: Recent polls show New Hampshire voters oppose repealing gay marriage by a roughly two-to-one margin, but conservative Republicans see the repeal vote as a litmus test.

TED MARAVELIAS: I will do anything financially permissible and legally permissible to make socially liberal Republican legislators accountable.

ROGERS: Ted Maravelias is chairman of a New Hampshire political action committee that's raising money to oppose members of the GOP who vote to support same-sex marriage. The National Organization for Marriage has already set aside $250,000 for the same purpose. Few lawmakers like to admit that such threats work, but many agree they'd just as soon skip the entire issue.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE SPEC BOWERS: I would be just as happy if it did not come up, but when I ran and people asked me about it, I said I would support traditional marriage.

ROGERS: Spec Bowers is one of the several dozen libertarian-minded Republicans swept into office in 2010. These new lawmakers could end up deciding this issue. But on a matter that involves basic rights, representatives can be hard to pigeon-hole. David Welch, a 14-term Republican, voted against the current gay marriage law and says he still believes marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals. But he's adamant that revisiting the issue is wrong for New Hampshire.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID WELCH: If you have given a right, as we did, without my support, to take that right back, you're disenfranchising those folks who took advantage of it, and it would create a wedge.

ROGERS: The speaker of the New Hampshire House supports repealing the gay marriage law, but has yet to announce when what all agree is a wedge issue will be put to a vote.

For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.