Rain
65°
Rain
Hi 76° | Lo 55°

Marriage hearing draws 700

Bill sponsors seek postponement

They were gay and straight, Democrats and Republicans, clergy and constitutional activists. Many wore red, symbolizing the color of love and their support for marriage equality. A few wore stickers promoting marriage as between one man and one woman.

Nearly 700 people packed Representatives Hall and the House gallery yesterday to testify on two bills that would repeal same-sex marriage and another bill that would get rid of state-sponsored marriage altogether.

In the first minutes of the hearing, sponsors of both marriage repeal bills urged the House Judiciary Committee to retain their bills until the 2012 legislative session. But that did not stop 8½ hours of testimony touching on God, the Bible, the Constitution, American history and personal experience. Opponents of the bill outnumbered supporters 10-to-1, according to some counts.

Paul Ober, a University of New Hampshire club hockey player, came out to his teammates at the hearing, telling them, and the committee, that he is bisexual.

"It sucks to be gay because of the discrimination," Ober said afterward. "It's legally condone-able behavior to make fun of homosexuals, bisexuals, anyone with an alternative lifestyle."

The sophomore English major said he hopes if same-sex marriage remains in place, people will "come around" and stop discriminating.

"The law was passed originally based on an act of love and kindness to a group of people," Ober said. "To take that away is pointless and illogical."

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt of Salem said previously that repealing same-sex marriage is not a Republican priority this session. As a result, Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, and Rep. Leo Pepino, a Manchester Republican, asked the House Judiciary Committee to delay considering their bills repealing same-sex marriage and defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

"House Republican leadership made clear their main priority is to restore fiscal responsibility to New Hampshire by balancing the budget, creating a business-friendly environment, job creation and tax relief," Bates said. "I support leadership's focus. . . . I recommend with leadership that this bill be retained in your committee to be acted on next year after the budget and all pressing matters have been addressed."

Bates said he has been assured by Republican leaders that they will support repealing same-sex marriage during the 2012 legislative session.

While the bills' sponsors said they would hold their speeches until next year, paid activists and everyday citizens had no such qualms. Committee Chairman Robert Rowe, an Amherst Republican, used an hourglass to measure the three minutes allotted to each speaker and joked that he would have to go to confession for cutting off so many clergy members in mid-speech.

Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the board of the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, testified that the union of a man and woman should be treated differently because it is the only union that can produce children.

"Why is it that virtually every human society has recognized we need a special institution to bring together the two great halves of humanity - male and female?" Gallagher asked. "Traditional marriage is not discrimination, to treat different things differently."

Supporters of the bill cited the long history of traditional marriage.

"For millions of years we've used the term a man and a woman as marriage. Then one day many religious people, Christians, all woke up and it was over, just like that," said Londonderry Republican Rep. Al Baldasaro. "The same thing went on in Canada. They allowed gay marriage, now they're fighting in courts to get three husbands, three wives." A British Columbia court recently conducted eight weeks of hearings on the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy statute.

Sen. Ray White, a Bedford Republican, said his views of marriage are shaped by his Christianity and belief in the Bible.

"Thousands of years of human history are being turned on its head," White said. "Are we so arrogant we know better than millions of people who came before us, that we can change the fundamental building block of our society and not accept consequences?"

White said he grew up in a broken home and experienced the harm to a child when a heterosexual marriage fractures.

"Government should promote only the best, most ideal household arrangement," he said.

Several religious leaders and adherents also spoke out against same-sex marriage.

"We have to hold to the sacred institutions that make this country great," said the Rev. Thomas Peetz of the Word of Life Church in Concord. "This Judeo-Christian foundation we've been blessed to build on has to stay sacred."

"For us to deny there is a creator, to flout his rules, namely marriage between a man and a woman, is to say we don't care," added Ted Maravelias, a conservative activist from Windham. "Take a step back and recognize the God of the universe said man and woman defines marriage, not homosexuals."

But supporters of same-sex marriage said it is a matter of civil rights and love for all people.

"God makes people who we are," said Carol Cusick, a cook living in Hillsboro. "God loves everyone. We need more love in the world."

Cusick said her best friend, an American nurse, fell in love with a German nurse. Both women had to move to Germany, since the United States would not recognize their marriage for citizenship purposes.

"If former Nazi Germany could show that kind of tolerance, the Live Free or Die state could do a hell of a lot better," Cusick said.

The Rev. Mary Westfall, a pastor at Durham Community Church, has performed civil unions and same-sex marriages. Westfall said she looks at the Bible in its totality, rather than picking out specific verses.

"It's about God's incredible love for humanity and our call to love," Westfall said. "I know so many dedicated gay and lesbian couples living committed Christian lives."

The Rev. Caroline Fairless, an Episcopal priest from New London added that in historical marriages, women were considered the property and chattel of men.

"I'm not sure that's what we want to base our conversation on, the history of marriage," she said.

Many attendees talked about their personal experiences. Bob Davis, 50, of Concord got married last New Year's Day. He and his husband have been together for 30 years. Davis worked as a personal caregiver for his now-husband, and they "fell in love at first sight," he said.

"They already passed the (gay marriage) law, why do we have to go through the ugliness again?" Davis said.

William Fregosi, 65, lives in Raymond and is retired from the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His husband, Fritz Bell, runs an education and conference center. They married in Massachusetts in 2004 and moved to Raymond. For them, marriage is an expression of their right to equality.

"It's a dangerous precedent to give rights and then take them away from someone," Fregosi said.

Fregosi said he hopes that gay couples living married lives will show communities there is nothing to fear.

"We're not harming anyone, not corrupting children," he said. "We're living our lives as good taxpayers and patriotic Americans."

A third bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Bolster, an Alton Republican, would get rid of state-sponsored marriage altogether and instead have the state approve "domestic unions" between two people.

"There are some things that are just too important and personal to be controlled by government, whether it's faith or marriage," Bolster said.

Bolster said marriage should be up to cultural and religious institutions, while the government's role should be only in protecting and recording "freely contracted relationships" for matters of legal protections.

Rep. Seth Cohn, a Canterbury Republican, said he opposes repealing same-sex marriage but supports Bolster's bill. Cohn said that over the years, marriage licenses have been used by government as a tool to codify racism and sexism.

"It doesn't matter if you believe same-sex marriage is blessed by God or cursed by God," Cohn said. "That's not the purview of the state."

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)