CONCORD, N.H. — Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas recently vetoed a bill establishing same-sex "marriage," only to have his veto promptly overturned by the state's legislature. Maine Gov. John Baldacci immediately signed the same-sex "marriage" bill passed by the legislature on May 6. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch is, for the time being, somewhere in the middle, in more ways than one.
The New Hampshire Legislature completed its passage of the bill on May 6 and sent it on for enrollment. The enrollment process, involving both the offices of Legislative Services and the Secretary of State, has no fixed timetable, said Eric Fowler, assistant clerk in the state House of Representatives in Concord.
"It can take anywhere from two hours to two weeks," Fowler said. Once the bill reaches his desk, the governor has five days (excluding Sundays and holidays) to sign or veto it or let it become law without his signature. As of May 14, Lynch had still not said what he would do.
New Hampshire could become the fifth New England state to adopt same-sex "marriage," leaving only Rhode Island without it. Same-sex "marriage" advocates have made impressive gains here and in other parts of the country this spring. Their cause advanced in New York when its Assembly passed a bill May 12 introduced by Gov. David Paterson. The bill now moves to the state Senate.
The cause has not fared so well in Rhode Island, where, according to a recent survey by Trinity College in Connecticut, 46% of residents identify themselves as Catholic. And Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has been unequivocal in declaring homosexual "marriages" a perversion of natural law.
"We don't see it as a civil rights issue," the bishop said in a recent interview, "because there's never a right to do something that's morally wrong."
In New Hampshire, though, where about a third of the state's 1.3 million residents are Catholic, the fate of same-sex "marriage" is up to Lynch, a Catholic who has opposed the Church's positions in the past, particularly on abortion. The bill passed both the House and Senate by slender margins, with not nearly enough support to override a veto.
While votes on the bill did not go entirely along partisan lines, most Republicans voted against the measure, while a majority of Democrats voted for it. Democrats won majorities in both houses of the Legislature in 2006 for the first time in more than a century and won majorities again in last year's elections.
Two years ago, Lynch signed New Hampshire's civil unions bill. At the time, he said, "I do not support 'gay marriage," and New Hampshire law today prohibits 'gay marriage.'" And on April 15 this year, he said, "I think the word marriage is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman, and I think the real issues really are rights and protections for gay and lesbian couples."
But when the Legislature passed the new bill, Lynch appeared to be wavering.
"I'm going to talk to legislators, and I'm going to talk to the people of New Hampshire, and, ultimately, make the best decision I can for the people of New Hampshire," the governor said that evening.
Kevin Smith is executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, a family-values organization headquartered in Concord.
"Either he keeps his word and vetoes the bill or he has been misleading the New Hampshire public," Smith said. Cornerstone Policy Action, the organization's political action committee, and the National Organization for Marriage have been running ads on New Hampshire television highlighting Lynch's past statements on the issue and urging viewers to call upon the governor to keep his word.
"I think the governor will be careful in his examination of the bill," said state Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, the primary sponsor of the legislation. "I think he always looks to veto legislation that would harm New Hampshire. I don't think this is a bill that harms anybody."
Opponents argue the bill would radically redefine the essential nature of marriage.
But Smith said the bill makes marriage "gender-neutral."
"That way, men and women are interchangeable and children don't need a mother and father to grow up in the ideal environment," he said.
While the act does stipulate that clergy would not be required to officiate at same-sex "marriages," laypeople could be coerced into providing services for such weddings, he added.
"It does not protect the religious liberty of people like the caterer who does not want to perform his or her services for a same-sex 'marriage,'" he said. New Hampshire law forbids discrimination based on "sexual orientation," and a business may be fined $10,000 for a first offense, Smith said.
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, charged that the New Hampshire legislation contains a "fake religious-liberty exemption."
"Those of us who believe in marriage as a union between a man and a woman will be treated as if we are bigots," he said, "and the force of law will come down on us."
Bishop John McCormack of Manchester also cited religious liberty concerns, when he issued a statement calling on the governor to veto the bill.
"Short of preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman, there must be adequate protections for churches, but also for individuals who have a genuine conscientious objection to participating in or assisting ceremonies of same-sex couples," the bishop said.
"It seems to me marriage is what marriage is," said Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, the only Democrat voting against the bill when the Senate approved it, 13-11. "I think the equality issue has been settled with civil unions."
Jack Kenny writes from Manchester, New Hampshire.
Manchester, New Hampshire.