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Gay marriage repeal seeks referendum

Civil unions' return unaffected by vote

The sponsor of a bill erasing gay marriage in New Hampshire announced yesterday he would allow voters to weigh in on the issue before the repeal takes effect, a move supporters of the current law described as desperate and shallow.

'Since I introduced this legislation over a year ago, I've been continually trying to refine the bill and find language that would be acceptable to the greatest number of legislators possible,' said Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican.

Bates's bill, which is set for a vote next Wednesday, now includes a question to be put before New Hampshire voters on the November ballot: 'Shall New Hampshire law allow civil unions for same-sex couples and define marriage as the union of one man and one woman?'

'In November, we can find out, unequivocally, once and for all, what the citizens of New Hampshire believe and what they want regarding marriage and civil unions in our state,' Bates said. 'There will be no more guessing, no more arguing or debating over dueling polls, just the actual voice of the people telling us what their will is on this issue.'

The results of the question would be non-binding, however. Regardless of the result, the bill says the repeal would take effect March 31, 2013.

But Bates said he has 'every confidence' if the November vote comes back in support of the current law, the Legislature would honor the results and keep same-sex marriage.

'I'm ready to accept the will of the people,' Bates said. 'Now let's see if those on the other side of this debate will do the same. Or are the homosexual activists only interested in pushing through their own agenda, without regard for the will of the people of this state?'

Supporters of same-sex marriage were quick to criticize Bates's amendment yesterday. Craig Stowell, co-chairman of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, called it 'nothing more than a desperate, last-minute Hail Mary pass.'

'This is nothing more than window dressing, and the Legislature should reject this out of hand,' Stowell said.

Tyler Deaton, a lobbyist for the group, said Bates's non-binding question would allow him to ignore the results if they don't go his way and push through the repeal. This is Bates's fourth version of the repeal bill and evidence he is having trouble securing the votes to get it passed, Deaton said.

'The question is are we going to take a step back in time?' Deaton said. 'That's not what New Hampshire does.'

An October poll from the University of New Hampshire asked residents 'would you say you support or oppose the effort to repeal legalized gay marriage in New Hampshire?' Sixty-two percent of the respondents said they oppose the repeal effort.

Bates had previously pushed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which would have gone before voters requiring a two-thirds majority. Before getting to the polls, the amendment would have needed a three-fifths majority in both houses of the Legislature.

Bates abandoned the constitutional amendment effort last year in favor of House Bill 437, which would require a simple majority for initial passage. Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who signed same-sex marriage into law in 2009, has not been a vocal advocate for the cause, but it is widely believed he would veto the bill, which would require a two-thirds majority to override in both houses.

Bates was asked why the bill's non-binding question doesn't simply say, 'Do you support gay marriage?' or 'Do you oppose gay marriage?'

'The question that's going to appear on the ballot relates directly to the language of this legislation,' Bates said. 'If you rephrase it like that, it would have no direct correlation to the bill and, if anything, that could be confusing.'

Bates also unveiled changes to his bill yesterday dealing with civil unions, which would be allowed for same-sex couples instead of marriage. Responding to concerns about whether civil unions in his bill would be universally recognized, he took out language allowing a person or organization to refuse to recognize the unions based on a religious or moral objection.

The bill states that no ministers or clergyman shall be required to solemnize or perform a civil union. Out-of-state same-sex marriages would be treated as civil unions after the repeal. A provision also asserts that 'any marriage recognized as valid in the state' prior to the repeal would continue to be recognized as valid.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)

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