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Shaheen backs gay marriage for party platform

Last modified: 2/29/2012 12:00:00 AM
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is pushing to include support for same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party's 2012 platform at the same time state legislators are readying for a vote to repeal New Hampshire's 2009 law.

Shaheen, a first-term Democrat and former governor from Madbury, released a statement yesterday calling on her party to adopt language at the national convention in September crafted by pro-gay marriage group Freedom to Marry. She said 'any Democratic statement of core beliefs about the importance of families must include all our families, gay and straight.'

'Our party has a long tradition of leading the charge on important questions of justice,' she said. 'Now is the time for the Democratic Party to stand up for the rights of same-sex couples and their families.'

New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage when Democratic Gov. John Lynch signed into law a bill that took effect January 2010. Since then, nearly 2,000 same-sex couples have married here.

'Sen. Shaheen knows firsthand why marriage matters, having seen the outpouring of joy among her constituents since gay and lesbian couples began to share in the freedom to marry in New Hampshire,' said Marc Solomon, a spokesman for Freedom to Marry. 'We applaud her leadership in endorsing this crucial plank in the Democratic Party's platform.'

The New Hampshire House is set to vote next month on a bill introduced by Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, that would end same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. Bates said yesterday that support for gay marriage in the Democratic Party platform would be a 'disservice to them because I know a lot of Democrats that do not support these out-of-the-mainstream viewpoints.'

'If the Democrats want to draw those lines and say that they're the party that supports homosexuals, I think they're revealing more and more how far they've departed from the mainstream,' Bates said.

Shaheen's outward support for gay marriage contrasts with the muted approaches taken by Lynch and Democratic President Obama. Lynch did not specifically address the gay marriage repeal effort in his final State of the State address, though he pledged to oppose legislation that 'would strip any of our citizens of their civil rights.'

Obama objected to same-sex marriage in the past, citing religious reasons, but has said during his presidency that his stance on the issue is evolving.

Shaheen joins former U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and former Democratic senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin in calling for the party to endorse same-sex marriage this year. The 2008 Democratic Party platform said 'we oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.'

The proposed platform language crafted by Freedom To Marry states that 'government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times.'

'We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples,' the proposal reads.

Bates said marriage is 'not just this nice, love-y feeling that two people have.'

'A fundamental element of marriage is that it is between two people of the opposite gender,' Bates said. 'Homosexuals have always had the same privilege and freedom to marry as anyone else, but it's their decision to be with someone else.'

Bates is in the process of crafting a floor amendment to his bill that would address concerns raised by fellow Republicans. One hang-up is a provision that allows individuals and organizations to refuse to recognize same-sex civil unions if the unions 'violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.' Bates was not yet sure how he will amend the wording to ensure greater recognition of civil unions, as some have requested, given his belief that 'in many cases the rights of the homosexuals are being elevated above people's constitutional right to freedom of religion.'

Bates's bill also asserts that 'children can only be conceived naturally through copulation by heterosexual couples,' causing some to wonder if the bill would eliminate artificial insemination in the state. Bates said that was not his intention and he is looking into reworking the sentence.

Though Republicans hold a three-to-one majority in the House, and the state GOP platform defines marriage as between a man and a woman, Bates said the changes to those sections are needed to achieve a two-thirds majority capable of overriding a potential Lynch veto.

'This is what making law is - it's about parsing words and trying to make it as clear as possible,' he said. 'I'm pretty confident that my final floor amendment is going to significantly add to the votes.'

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


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