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Sununu signs transgender antidiscrimination bill, drawing praise and scorn

  • Gov. Chris Sununu. (Concord Monitor - Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Chris Sununu GEOFF FORESTER



For the Monitor
Friday, June 08, 2018

Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday signed into law bills prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and banning therapies that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors.

“Discrimination – in any form – is unacceptable and runs contrary to New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die Spirit,” the governor said in a statement after signing House Bill 1319, which bans discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations.

New Hampshire becomes the 19th state – and final one in New England – to offers the protections, which join already existing ones based on race, sex, religion and sexual orientation.

Sununu also signed into law House Bill 587, which makes New Hampshire the 14th state to add a law or regulation protecting LGBTQ minors from conversion therapy.

The signing of the bills comes one week before New Hampshire’s Republican governor files his candidacy for re-election for another two-year term in the corner office.

While one political scientist said Sununu’s move “puts him on the right side of history,” it’s doubtful his signatures will win him many votes from Democrats opposed to his re-election. And it’s possible it may cost him a few votes at the ballot box with some disgruntled social conservatives, who opposed the bills.

His signatures drew both praise and scorn on Friday.

“Today the Governor signed common-sense legislation into law to ensure transgender people in our state are treated fairly and with dignity under the law,” American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire executive director Devon Chaffee said.

Linds Jakows, the outgoing campaign manager of Freedom New Hampshire, the lobbying group which pushed hard to pass the transgender bill, told the Monitor that she was thrilled Sununu signed the protections into law.

“We really proved that this is not a partisan issue anymore in New Hampshire,” Jakows added. “We couldn’t be happier that the governor was ready to do and committed to several times before today.”

In signing the bill, Sununu evoked the state motto.

“If we really want to be the Live Free or Die state, we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and to make a better life for themselves and their families,” he said. “This bill will ensure equal rights, equal opportunity, and nondiscrimination protections in the areas of housing and employment.”

But his move didn’t generate any applause from the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Longtime state party chairman Ray Buckley praised Democratic lawmakers, who overwhelming supporting the bill, and continued to fire away at Sununu, the state’s first Republican governor in a dozen years.

“After saying he had ‘no personal opinion’ on the bill last year as his own party killed it, we’re happy to see Governor Sununu finally come around,” Buckley said. “It’s telling that the governor is trying to dodge political upheaval in his own party by signing this bill on a Friday afternoon without a bill signing ceremony and without so much as saying the word ‘transgender’ in his signing statement, but it’s not surprising.”

The leaders of a Granite State group that represents LGBT Republicans applauded the governor’s move.

“We are very grateful to Governor Sununu for his leadership and strength in signing these important bills that received bipartisan support in the House and Senate,” wrote Jennifer Horn and Doug Palardy, co-chairs of Log Cabin Republicans of New Hampshire

But some conservatives vented their frustration.

“Today, a Republican governor goes down in history as the man who signed the Bathroom Bill, endangering women and girls all across the state and giving unfair advantages to men posing as women in various competitive environments,” Cornerstone Action Executive Director Shannon McGinley charged.

Outspoken conservative state Rep. Al Baldasaro recently told the Monitor that Sununu’s support of the transgender bill will hurt him with social conservative voters.

“I think it’s going to have a major effect,” Baldasaro said. “I’ve been warning him.”

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala wasn’t sure how much damage Sununu may face from social conservatives over his signing of the bills.

“So-called social issues tend to divide New Hampshire Republicans, and this bill is no exception. The division gave the governor some freedom of action that he would not have on, say, raising taxes,” Scala explained.

“Social conservatives will grumble, but they don’t appear to have the juice to make the popular governor pay the price for this,” Scala added. “There just aren’t enough voters, even in a statewide Republican primary, who will vote on these issues. That was true when it came to repealing gay marriage, and it’s true today.”

Saint Anselm College political science professor Christopher Galdieri said it’s a sign of Sununu’s confidence in the upcoming election.

“He feels like he is comfortably ahead enough that he can afford to lose a few social conservative votes,” Galdieri said.

“Sununu is taking the long view here,” Galdieri added. “I don’t know if it helps him in this election but I think in the long run it’s probably a good move for him.”