Gay marriage gets backup

Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Gay marriage supporters, including a couple of House Republicans, made a final push yesterday ahead of tomorrow's vote to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire.

"With all the issues facing us today, two people loving each other and pledging to spend their lives together shouldn't be one we're trying to stop," said Greg Kretschmar, host of the Morning Buzz radio show on WGIR, at a press conference inside the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

Rep. Mike Ball, who is chairman of the Manchester Republican Committee, said he and Rep. Jennifer Coffey, an Andover Republican also in attendance, "represent a sizable number of Republicans in the House who feel that gay marriage is a liberty issue."

"As someone who grew up in the South and went to a segregated elementary school, I know what segregation looks like and that's exactly what this bill is," Ball said. "The idea that we are the party of small government and more liberty flies in the face of this attempt to use government to micromanage a certain group of people's lives. That is not acceptable."

Ball said being gay is not a choice.

"I dare say hardly anybody would choose to have their civil liberties debated by the New Hampshire House," he said.

Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, introduced the gay marriage repeal bill last year with 11 Republican co-sponsors. In an attempt to secure enough votes to pass the bill, Bates unveiled an amendment last week that would put a nonbinding question on the issue before voters in November, prior to the law's repeal in March 2013. Bates said he believes the Legislature will honor the results if voters do not agree with defining marriage "as the union of one man and one woman."

Mary Dumont, a Seacoast resident who has appeared on the Food Network show Next Iron Chef, was married to Emily French-Dumont under the 2009 law and said she is a proud native of the "Live Free or Die" state. When Dumont wakes up in the morning, she said, "I don't think I'm going to have a gay day."

"I can't control my personal life. This is who I am," Dumont said. "I spent almost 38 years looking for Emily."

Bates said his bill would allow the nearly 2,000 same-sex couples who have wed in New Hampshire to keep their marital status. After the repeal, same-sex couples would only be able to obtain a civil union.

Tyler Deaton, lobbyist for Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, the pro-gay marriage group that organized the press conference, noted multiple polls have shown a majority of New Hampshire citizens oppose the repeal effort, including an October survey by the University of New Hampshire that found 62 percent in opposition.

"This is an issue we think is just a basic issue of fairness and freedom," Deaton said. "There's no reason to go back in time."

House Speaker Bill O'Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, has been a vocal supporter of the repeal bill, telling a rally last month that same-sex couples who "bring their private behavior and choices to the public square and ask us to redefine their activities . . . are seeking to destroy the very society that we have." While the House is expected to have the votes for initial passage of the repeal bill, supporters of the current law are hoping the chamber won't have the two-thirds majority needed to override a likely veto by Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

"We remain optimistic that we're going to build the coalition of support we need in the House and the Senate to sustain a potential veto," Deaton said.

Coffey said fellow House Republicans she's spoken to about the bill have "mixed feelings." She highlighted the "nonbinding" ballot question now proposed by Bates.

"It gives a false sense to the public that, 'It's okay, we're putting this out there for a vote,' " Coffey said. "But your vote's not going to count and the law's still going to get repealed. I don't think that's very fair to the public in that regard."

Coffey said by allowing those married before the repeal to keep their status, while preventing same-sex couples from marrying afterward, "you've got this second-class citizen being set up."

"Inequality of law is something that many of us take very seriously," she said.

Ball said a veto by Lynch will not be overridden in the House because many Republicans "refuse to roll back the clock and take rights away from people." As head of the Manchester GOP, he was asked how he reconciles his position with the state Republican Party platform, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

""The Republican platform is wrong on that issue. And that's the bottom line," he said.

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