MANCHESTER, N.H. — New Hampshire State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, says he wants to restore the real definition of marriage in the Granite State.
“We have, right now, an illegitimate definition of marriage in our state,” said Bates, the lead sponsor of a bill that would turn back the 2009 law that legalized same-sex “marriage” in his state. If the bill passes, it would mark the first time that a legislature will have reversed itself on the contentious issue.
The New Hampshire Legislature is expected to vote later this month on Bates’ bill, which appears to have enough support to pass the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who opposed same-sex “marriage” before reversing his position and signing the law in 2009, has vowed to veto the bill.
“I’m sure (the bill) will go to the governor. I’m sure he will veto it. We’ll deal with that when the time comes,” said Bates, adding that it was preliminary to speculate whether there is enough support in the legislature to override a veto.
“A super majority of 67% is difficult to achieve. It’s difficult to know what will happen between now and then,” Bates told the Register.
The situation in New Hampshire is occurring during an active point in the national debate. On March 1, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a law that made his state the eighth in the nation to legalize same-sex “marriage.” In February, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, signed a bill legalizing same-sex “marriage” there. Opponents in both states are seeking referendums to nullify the laws.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed a bill last month passed by the state Legislature. Voters in Minnesota and North Carolina will vote later this year on whether to enact constitutional bans on same-sex “marriage.”
“This battle is going on from coast to coast. But, by definition, same-sex ‘marriage’ makes no sense. It’s an oxymoron,” said Bates, who takes issue with his bill being framed as a “repeal.” He argues that his legislation is rather a restoration of marriage as the distinct union of a man and woman.
“It’s important to not adopt the carefully crafted language of our opponents,” Bates said.
“There is no question there are very real, dangerous consequences of us adopting, as a matter of public policy, an affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle. It’s a short step from there for the government to prohibit opposition and to prosecute people for so-called hate crimes for speaking out against it.
“That is where this is all leading.”
Since 2009, New Hampshire state records show that 1,861 same-sex couples had obtained marriage licenses through the end of January. Bates’ bill would not invalidate those legal marriages, but would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions moving forward.
The Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire has thrown its support behind Bates’ bill, though it would restore the civil unions that same-sex couples in New Hampshire received before the 2009 law. The diocese said the bill was an “incremental improvement” toward the goal of the “full restoration of justice” and urged Catholics to contact their local representatives.
Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester wrote a letter on the feast of the Holy Family in which he warned against efforts to redefine marriage.
“The wisdom of many millennia of human experience is not to cast aside truth, but to uphold it if society is to prosper and find peace,” Bishop Libasci wrote.
“In this regard, I am encouraged that the New Hampshire General Court will have the opportunity in (2012) to vote to restore the traditional understanding of marriage, and I sincerely hope that the General Court will accomplish this important task. And if such will be the case, then we must, as a people dedicated to the common good, ‘be there’ as our young people say, for married couples and their family bond.”
About 200 people attended a Feb. 7 rally at the State House in Concord to support Bates’ bill. Among those who addressed the crowd was State House Speaker William O’Brien, a Republican from Mont Vernon who is also a key backer of Bates’ legislation.
“There are those who say it takes a village to raise a child — it doesn’t. It takes a mother and a father,” O’Brien said.
However, Bates’ opponents say political will and public opinion are on their side.
A group called Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, which supports same-sex “marriage,” noted on its website that seven New Hampshire newspaper editorial boards have weighed in against overturning the 2009 law. The group has also organized phone banks to mobilize support and call upon people to contact their local lawmakers to vote against Bates’ bill.
A Feb. 7 poll conducted by WMUR and the University of New Hampshire indicated that 59% of the state’s citizens supported maintaining legalized same-sex “marriage.”
“We’ve now had a full year’s worth of polls on the question of repealing our marriage-equality law, and the result is always the same — voters do not want the legislature messing with this law,” said Craig Stowell, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a registered Republican who serves as the co-chairman of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families.
“This is not a close call. By a consistent margin of nearly two-to-one, voters are telling legislators to leave this popular law alone and get back to work on the economic challenges of our day,” Stowell said.
New Hampshire state Rep. Seth Cohn, a Republican with libertarian leanings who opposes the repeal, told The New York Times that he thought Bates’ bill would harm his party’s chance of keeping its legislative majority after this year’s elections.
“I think it’s going to backlash against the Republicans, who, in the face of the polls, are choosing not to believe the average person is okay with this situation,” Cohn told the Times.
Bates countered that voters, when given the opportunity, have always decided to maintain the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Thirty states currently have constitutional amendments that prevent marriage from being redefined.
As Bates said, “That shows the majority of people actually want marriage to remain what it has always been.”
Brian Fraga writes from El Paso, Texas.