CONCORD – A House committee voted today to take repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage off the table this year.
The 15-0 vote of the House Judiciary Committee effectively means two bills repealing the 2009 law won’t return to the full House of Representatives until early next year.There was no debate in committee about the move.
House Majority Leader D. J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, had decided that this divisive issue would distract from GOP priorities to adopt a balanced budget, change the education funding constitutional amendment and alter pension programs.
The committee decided to retain the bills (HB 343 and HB 437), which keeps them in its custody until early in 2012 without a further vote of the Legislature.
The panel unanimously recommended killing a third bill (HB 569) that would have replaced marriage with domestic unions for all adult partners, be they heterosexual or homosexual couples.
Easton Republican Rep. Gregory Sorg said there is no political support for domestic unions, even though Gov. John Lynch signed a civil union bill for gay couples in 2007. Lawmakers replaced that bill with same-sex marriage and Lynch eventually became the only sitting governor to have signed a law granting marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
“It seems to me there is no longer a constituency in the House for domestic unions. It has not been a Republican issue,” Sorg said. “I do not believe the Democrats are in favor of reverting to civil unions and I know the Republicans aren’t.”
Walpole Democratic Rep. Lucy Weber said the domestic union bill posed more complications than the state’s previous civil unions law.
“If we change to domestic unions for everybody, I am very unclear with how that meshes with all the federal benefits that give us benefits because we are married,” Weber said.
Last month, more than 700 gay rights supporters packed Representatives Hall to call for the House to kill these bills.
Lynch has vowed to veto any bill to repeal same-sex marriage.
Some opponents of same-sex marriage were frustrated by the House GOP’s decision since two socially conservative groups spent more than $1.2 million to try and defeat Lynch and elect GOP legislative candidates.
Windham Republican Rep. David Bates authored one of the bills and decided at the 11th hour to drop the push this year.
“I have been assured the effort to restore traditional marriage will have the full support of House leadership when the time comes to take it up next year,” Bates said.