Repealing New Hampshire's Gay Marriage Law Is *Inexpedient To Legislate*

[note: I’m temporarily (for now) staying in New Hampshire and decided to nose around in her politics. This was my first issue. A long piece follows. If you’re not interested in the 1200 words of minutiae on the legislative background you can stop at the bolded “below the fold” comment]

New Hampshire lawmakers have voted down an attempt to repeal the law(s) granting same sex marriage rights put forward by House Republicans. By wide margins, Democrats have successfully upheld legislation they passed last year:

Opponents of HB 1590 said it would be wrong to back-track and to deny gays and lesbians the equal rights they fought for the state to recognize.

Rep. Robert Thompson, D-Manchester, argued against the amendment.

“We already have loving, committed same-sex marriage couples in New Hampshire. There has been no detrimental impact to anyone,” he said.

Thompson, who married his gay partner on Jan. 2, asked the House, “How has my marriage impacted upon your marriage, or how has it diminished the value of your marriage?”

He said the repeal bill, “is about taking rights away, plain and simple.”

The fundamental story here is that House Republicans wanted to put a Constitutional Amendment before NH voters and let them decide whether to allow same sex marriage in their State. Democrats consider the issue moot, one actually saying during the debate that “New Hampshire is not a referendum State” and that the Legislature did what it was expected to do by deciding this issue FOR Granite Staters. [I heard this personally as I listened to the LiveStream of the floor debate]

For Rep. Thompson (a benefactor of the new law) to suggest the repeal would take away rights without mentioning that he was part of ASSIGNING them in the first place is disingenuous. Democrats enjoy a large majority in the NH Legislature and successfully granted these rights to a minority demographic without the ballot-box input of the Citizens of the State:

Sponsors tried to delay the vote on the amendment until March 17. That would have given local voters at town meetings next month time to weigh in on warrant articles that ask for a general election vote on the amendment.

“All we’re trying to do here is put this on the ballot,” said Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, arguing voters should have their say. His effort to delay a vote fell short on a 191-148 vote. The House killed the gay marriage repeal after only a half-hour of debate, voting by a 2-1 margin to adopt a Judiciary Committee recommendation.

Republicans are asking that their Legislators’ sanity be checked by the voters, and the Democrats are apparently afraid of what voters might say. It’s clear that, while a “technical term”, *Inexpedient To legislate* carries a double meaning in this case. Democrats (including Rep. Thompson) have gone too far to turn back now; political expediency goes a long way toward defining the laws the Citizenry is forced to abide by, regardless their desire to be held accountable to them..or their opinions about them before they are enacted.

Lengthy and detailed chronology of how New Hampshire got here is below the fold

On June 3, 2009 the New Hampshire Legislature passed, and Gov. Lynch signed into law, HB 436 (a law assigning same-sex marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples). The “Analysis” at the top of the bill:

This bill eliminates the exclusion of same gender couples from marriage, affirms religious freedom protections of clergy with regard to the solemnization of marriage, and provides a mechanism by which same gender couples who have entered into a civil union prior to the enactment of this bill may obtain the legal status of marriage.

This law came as part of a package deal which included HB73 (affirming religious freedom protections with regard to marriage and prohibiting the establishment of civil unions on or after January 1, 2010), and HB310 (relative to reimbursement of mileage for judges and marital masters and relative to civil marriage and civil unions). Gov. Lynch, Democrat, “had promised a veto if the law didn’t clearly spell out that churches and religious groups would not be forced to officiate at gay marriages or provide other services. Legislators made the changes.”

New Hampshire, in adopting these laws, joined Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa…and became the 6th US State to jump on the gay marriage bandwagon. It’s worth adding here (as matters of reference) the list of proposed laws that had to be shot down as “inexpedient to legislate” before the right to marry could be granted by the New Hampshire Legislature to this small demographic (without any direct ballot box input from the citizens of the “Live Free Or Die” State by way of a Constitutional Amendment).

HB147 (prohibiting the recognition as civil unions of marriages between persons of the same sex contracted outside of New Hampshire), HB396 (relative to the solemnization of marriage), HB453 (establishing that marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this state), and my personal favorite HB684 (allowing persons of the opposite sex to enter civil unions, eliminating certain prohibitions on same-sex civil unions, and clarifying that no person shall be a party to both a civil union and a marriage, unless the parties to the marriage are legally separated) were all shot down during the ’09 legislative session on the way to making gay Marriage a “right” in New Hampshire.

Enter the 2010 New Hampshire Legislature.

On January 6, 2010 two bills were introduced and sent to the Judiciary Committee: a “Concurrent Resolution Proposing A Constitutional Amendment” CACR28 (relating to the definition of marriage. Providing that the state shall only recognize the union of one man and one woman as marriage) sponsored by Republicans Dumaine, Itse, and Elliott, and HB1590 (repealing same sex marriage) sponsored by Republicans Baldasaro, Gionet, Villeneuve, Ulery, and Kappler. Not surprisingly the Majority opinion out of the Judiciary committee regarding both bills was “Inexpedient to Legislate”, in each case by the very same vote of 12-8.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives convened today (February 17, 2010) with a full calendar of matters over which to debate and vote on. In the matter of CACR28 and HB1590, the synopsis provided for the Public Record states:

CACR 28, relating to the definition of marriage. Providing that the state shall only recognize the union of one man and one woman as marriage. MAJORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE. MINORITY: OUGHT TO PASS. Rep. Robert B Thompson for the Majority of Judiciary: This amendment violates the intent of our constitution. We should never enshrine discrimination into the living document called our constitution. These rights given to us in our constitution are rights granted to all our citizens. There is no exceptions clause or language which excludes any person. Our representative government is elected and expected to use judgment in its decision making. This amendment is an attempt to change our constitution by bringing a referendum to the ballot. Vote 12-8.

Rep. William L. O’Brien for the Minority of Judiciary: During last year’s debate over same gender marriage there were two themes that were dominant. Within the legislature, proponents of redefining marriage claimed that the people were ready for, and even wanted, this change. Outside of the legislature, the predominant response heard by members of the minority, from same gender marriage proponents and opponents alike, was that a cultural shift of this nature should not be decided within the legislature. Proponents wished to demonstrate their belief that the time had come for this change. Opponents firmly believed that the legislature was seeking a radical, social, and cultural change that would never be accepted by the people just, as in other states when the question has been put to the people it has not been accepted. It appears that same gender marriage opponents were correct. The majority of the Judiciary Committee is refusing to place this question before the people. They will not let New Hampshire vote.

HB 1590-FN, repealing same sex marriage. MAJORITY: INEXPEDIENT TO LEGISLATE. MINORITY: OUGHT TO PASS. Rep. Robert B. Thompson for the Majority of Judiciary: This bill takes away rights granted by this legislature last year. We already have loving committed couples married in New Hampshire. These couples and their children now enjoy equally the legal and societal benefits of marriage. There has been no detrimental impact to the state of New Hampshire. This bill is flawed and unjust. Vote 12-8.

Rep. Nancy J. Elliott for the Minority of Judiciary: The minority believes that last year the legislature made a mistake passing gay marriage. Legislators ignored the voice of the citizens of New Hampshire to attend to the desires of special interest activists. These activists would have us believe that heterosexual marriage and gay marriage are the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The consummation of gay marriage cannot even be spoken of in polite society and a gay marriage is not valid without it. We have said that this new group of people are married because of these practices. This new marriage has nothing to do with fairness as two people that love each other but do not consummate, cannot be married. To the minority this is confusion and should not have been placed into law. The minority believes that it is time to recognize the error that was made and pass HB 1590 to repeal gay marriage.

In the matter of CACR, Rep. Bates requested the vote be delayed to Mar 17 suggesting the people of New Hampshire, during upcoming planned Town Halls across the State, should decide for themselves whether a Constitutional amendment should be put before them to decide the issue of same-sex marriage in the next election. The motion failed 148-191. The vote to accept the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that CACR was Inexpedient to Legislate followed, and passed 201-135 – quickly followed by a “Motion to Reconsider” which failed 109-207. Each of these votes were very much along party lines.

In the matter of HB1590 the vote to accept the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that HB1590 was Inexpedient to Legislate passed 210-109 and was also quickly followed by “Motion to Reconsider” which failed by a simple voice vote. Each of these votes, again, were very much along party lines.

At the close of the debate, Republicans promised to keep bringing this issue up until the voters are given the opportunity to be heard. Time will tell if this happens.