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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saving Marriage in New Hampshire. A New Hope?

When the citizens of New Hampshire woke this past November 3rd they found that they had elected Republicans in unprecedented numbers to their state legislature. Although both Houses of that legislature had previous been majority Democratic, the next legislature would have a Republican supermajority in both houses able to enact any law they wished and to override a veto by the Democratic Governor.

At least two bills have already been introduced undoing marriage equality in New Hampshire, and by legislative rules, votes must be taken on these bills at some point in the next two years. Until just recently most political junkies expected the New Hampshire GOP to move quickly on one or another of these bills, and no one was optimistic that the votes were yet there to sustain the Governor's veto, especially without time to organize opposition.

But in an unexpected yet welcome development yesterday, the leader of the House of Representatives, Republican Representative DJ Bettencourt, said that

... he will ask that the fight to repeal gay marriage be postponed until 2012... he will ask the committee responsible for the repeal bill to retain it until next year."

The history of saving marriage in the United States is not pretty.

A documentary called Saving Marriage describes the intense battle that took places in Massachusetts between the time its Supreme Court ruled that refusing to marry same-sex couples was unconstitutional on November 18th, 2003 until a decisive vote on June 14, 2007 by the Massachusetts Legislature refusing to put a repeal amendment on the ballot.

On May 15, 2008 the California Supreme Court declared that marrying the person of one's choice was a fundamental right. The Mormon Proposition documents how marriage equality was taken away from California's LGBT citizens pm November 4th, 2008 -- at the same time that the hopes and dreams of millions of others were realized with the election of Barack Obama. LGBT organizations having been caught flat-flooted, LGBT individuals could only watch in stunned disbelief as Californians voted by a margin of 600,000, 52% - 48%, to strip away a right they had just six months ago been told was embedded in their constitution.

No documentary has yet been made of another tragic defeat, this one in Maine. Organized, forewarned and forearmed, LGBT groups and their allies still could not match the Catholic Church, the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family and others as they battled in the fall of 2009 to preserve the law their state legislature had passed on May 6th, 2009. The final vote, taken November 3rd, 2009, was 300,848 to repeal, and 267,828 to preserve marriage equality.

And now the fourth battle, which at best can even the score, has begun.

Surrounded on three sides by jurisdictions with marriage equality (Canada, Vermont, and Massachusetts), and on two sides without it (Maine and the Atlantic, only one of which has held a vote) New Hampshire will now decide whether to strip away the rights of some of its citizens that were instituted barely a year ago.

New Hampshire has become the nation's premiere battleground in the fight to overthrow same-sex marriage. While battles to expand the right of marriage to samex-sex couples in 2011 will be taking place in Rhode Island, New York, Maryland and Delaware, New Hampshire will stand alone in its repeal attempt (a similar attempt in Iowa, has no chance of making it through a Democratic State Senate, thanks to the Majority Leader: "Gronstal has vowed to block debate legislation to make same-sex marriage illegal.").

While it is always best to take Republicans' statement of intent with a grain Everest-sized mountain of salt, the announcement that the New Hampshire legislature will not consider the issue until 2012 is better news that anyone could have hoped for. Commenting on this development, Adam Bink of the Courage Campaign noted:
... the longer couples are married and visible and more people can see this is good for the state, the economy, and fairness, the better off we'll be.
Not only will postponing a vote do that, but it will give more time for organizations like the Courage Campaign to organize an effective response.
Join us for Camp Courage, an intensive training on how to talk to our legislators, friends, family and community members about the importance of equality through our own stories and experiences. Based on the model developed by the Courage Campaign, these trainings across New Hampshire will empower individuals to have "Courageous Conversations" about their personal reasons for supporting marriage equality. Working in local teams, we will establish ways to strengthen equality in our community and at the State House, one person at a time.

Grante State Camp Courage
It will also give statewide organizations like New Hampshire Freedom to Marry and local activists time to put pressure on legislators in a state where the last polling (from 2009) showed that a majority of its citizens supported equal marriage rights 55% - 39%, a margin of 16%.

But make no mistake. The bigots can taste victory. They think they have the votes for a veto override, and will likely stop at nothing in their attempt to repeal the marriage equality law. They have already gone so far as to claim that Representative Bettencourt "doesn't support family values". They will not back down from person, Legislator or organization they perceive to be faltering in support of their agenda.


When Government embraces homosexuality, it FORCES us to do so as well.
And they will not stop spewing their lies.

Saving marriage equality in New Hampshire will be no less of an effort that it was in Massachusetts, where it took years to finally squelch the opposition and required countless hours of advocacy. And a favorable outcome is no more certain than it was in the Bay State, as the lost battles in California and Maine prove. But at least now I can see a path to victory.


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