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Editorial: From Bass, a change of heart

Amid the holidays and the snow, New Hampshire voters might be excused if they missed this curious political development: Quietly in December, outgoing U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass confirmed that he would support the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The news came just weeks after an election campaign debate in which he clearly took the opposite view.

The Defense of Marriage Act – DOMA – is the outdated 1996 law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state purposes. As a practical matter, it means that even in states like New Hampshire where gay marriage is legal, gay couples can still be discriminated against at the federal level – on scores of issues ranging from insurance benefits for government workers to the filing of joint federal tax returns.

Bass voted for DOMA when it was first passed. And during the 2012 campaign, he indicated that while he opposed a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, he wasn’t troubled by DOMA.

I think it’s legitimate to have this debate conducted at the state level, and . . . the Defense of Marriage Act simply keeps the federal government out of that debate,” Bass said during a debate with Annie Kuster, the Democrat who went on to beat him on Election Day.

“And by the way,” Bass continued, “It was supported by Bill Clinton and the majority of Democrats!”

But in December, Bass’s office confirmed to WMUR-TV that he would be a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the law, the third Republican to do so. The news cheered the gay Log Cabin Republicans, who called Bass a “longtime ally.”

It would be easy, of course, to point out that Kuster takes office tomorrow, making Bass’s sponsorship merely symbolic. It would be easy to point out that he kept his intentions from voters as he was campaigning for their support. In a state where gay marriage has been a big issue for several years, surely Bass’s constituents might have been interested in this development. It would be easy to see the move as purely political, especially from a longtime pol who sees which way the wind is blowing and who still might have another campaign or two in his sights.

Nonetheless, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Bass will be out of office after today, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an important voice on this issue, should he choose to. If equality for gay couples is a matter he genuinely cares about, convincing his fellow Republicans to join him on the right side of history would be a worthy cause indeed.

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