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N.H. Senate supports amending constitution to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation

Senators unanimously endorsed an amendment to the state Constitution yesterday that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the amendment also passes the House, it then needs support from two-thirds of voters in November.

The state Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex or national origin. New Hampshire already has statutes in place that prevent businesses from discrimination against people based on sexual orientation. This amendment would prohibit discrimination by the state itself.

“I believe that the state should recognize the same civil rights and take on the same responsibilities that we impose on our private businesses,” said Sen. David Pierce, a Lebanon Democrat and the amendment’s prime sponsor. Pierce is the state’s first openly gay senator.

New Hampshire is favorable now to same-sex marriage and rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but amending the Constitution would ensure those protections forever, Pierce said. The state passed marriage equality in 2009, but there were efforts to repeal it under a Republican-led Legislature in 2012.

“Despite New Hampshire’s leadership on this issue, we need to constitutionalize this civil right against the attacks that could come,” Pierce said. “There are elements within the New Hampshire Legislature that still want to roll back those protections. With a constitutional amendment, they cannot roll back those protections.”

The amendment also changes the Constitution from saying all “men” to saying all “individuals” have the natural rights to life, liberty, property and happiness. Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, introduced this change. Elsewhere, the state Constitution says “people” instead of men, which she said indicates it was the intent of the authors to only allow men. The state Constitution was written in 1784.

Two hundred and thirty “years is long enough to wait, and words do matter,” Kelly said.

The amendment will now move to the House, where it needs support from 60 percent of the body, or 240 members. If it passes the House, it will go on the ballot before voters in November. It does not need approval from the governor.

The Senate also passed a constitutional amendment yesterday that would require money raised for a dedicated purpose to only be used for that purpose.

“Ultimately, whether to amend the Constitution is a decision for the people,” Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, said in a statement. “By moving these amendments along today, the Senate is doing its part to allow the state’s voters to have their say on these two measures this fall.”

After the Senate passed the anti-discrimination amendment, Pierce thanked his colleagues for their support.

“It’s a momentous day for me personally, but it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s a momentous day, I think, for the state, that (shows) we are committed to equality.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the extent of the amendment. The amendment would only prohibit the state, not individuals, from discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are other state laws, however, that prohibit businesses and other groups from similar discrimination.

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