Marriage equality battle ramps up in New Hampshire, Maryland


Two New Hampshire legislators have introduced bills to repeal the state’s marriage equality law, even though Republican leaders said January 13 that such a repeal is not a party priority in 2011.

And several other states saw legislative moves toward or away from equality in the past week.

New Hampshire:

State Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) and 11 cosponsors filed a bill that would repeal marriage equality and prevent New Hampshire from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples contracted outside the state. New Hampshire same-sex couples who married in the state before the bill became effective would continue to be recognized as married. Same-sex couples who married in another state would no longer be recognized.

The bill’s stated purpose is that, because most children “are conceived by acts of passion between men and women – sometimes unintentionally,” New Hampshire has “a unique, distinct, and compelling interest” in promoting committed marriages between men and women “so as to increase the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by both of their natural parents.”

That is the essentially the same argument used — unsuccessfully — by the defense in the federal district court trial that struck down California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

State Rep. Leo Pepino (R-Manchester) and five cosponsors filed a separate bill that would repeal marriage equality and prohibit civil unions or any other form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The Associated Press reported January 25, however, that Pepino will ask the committee hearing the bill “to retain it until next year when they have more time.”

Bills cannot be killed in committee in New Hampshire, unlike in many other states. But a committee may choose to retain a bill for further study (in essence, tabling it), thus blocking consideration of it on the floor.

Governor John Lynch (D), who signed the original marriage equality bill into law, has said he would veto a repeal bill. But Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in both houses.

Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry (NHFTM), said in an interview that she thinks supporters of the law can sustain the governor’s veto by finding supporters among older, more libertarian-leaning Republicans.

“It’s going to be a horse race,” said Baxley. She noted that the national gay marriage opposition group, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM), spent over a million dollars trying to defeat Lynch in the last election, “and they want what they paid for.”

NOM is working in conjunction with an in-state group Cornerstone Action. Kevin Nix, director of communications for NHFTM, said that both NOM and Cornerstone are trying to “appear more tolerant,” and appeal to “people in the middle.”

“The public is solidly on our side,” Baxley asserted, but cautioned, “We can’t just presume that we’ve got the votes . . . .We’ve got to be full throttle out there.”

Baxley said that, with the state’s 400 House districts containing only about 3,100 people each, her group’s members are taking a “very grassroots” approach. They have been holding a series of town hall meetings with “a real mix” of attendees, gay and straight. They are also preparing for a public hearing on the bill.

She said state Republicans also plan to introduce a bill next year for a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. With a spotlight on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, she said, a ballot fight in 2012 could help motivate a stronger conservative turnout.


Marriage equality bills were introduced into both the Senate and House in the past week. Democrats have a majority in both chambers. Governor Martin O’Malley (D) has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Co-sponsor Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) said in a press briefing January 21 that he expects a fight on the Senate floor and will need 29 votes out of 47 to break a filibuster. An up-or-down vote on the bill, after the filibuster is broken, will require 24 votes. Democrats have a 35 to 12 majority in the Senate.

A public hearing on the Senate bill is scheduled for February 8.

Elsewhere this past week:

Hawaii: The full Senate on January 28 passed a bill to legalize civil unions for same- and opposite-sex couples. It now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass. Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) has said he will sign it.

Illinois: Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed a civil union bill January 31 giving same- and opposite-sex couples many of the same rights as married ones.

Iowa: The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill January 24 that would allow voters to decide on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. A public hearing on the bill was scheduled for Monday, January 31.

In the Senate, however, Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) attempted to bypass Senate rules and bring to the floor a vote on the Senate version of the bill. Democrats, who hold a 26-24 majority, voted down the attempt. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) had said he would block a vote on the bill.

New Mexico: Three bills were introduced in the House and one in the Senate that would variously put before voters a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and ban New Mexico from recognizing such marriages enacted outside the state.

Wyoming: The House passed a measure January 25 to prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. The next day, the state Senate passed a bill that would allow voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

A civil union bill introduced by openly gay State Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) failed by one vote to make it out of committee January 28. A separate bill by Connolly, for full marriage equality, died without a motion to vote.

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