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NH gay marriage opponents confident of repeal

By Norma Love
Associated Press / January 13, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—Lawmakers in the state House will vote on legislation to repeal the law that sanctions gay marriage in New Hampshire, even if Republicans who dominate the chamber don't include it among their top priorities, undaunted supporters of a repeal said Thursday.

Kevin Smith, of the conservative Cornerstone Action, said the House must vote on legislation to repeal same-sex marriage under legislative rules. If it doesn't happen this year, it will be next year, he said.

"The gay marriage issue will come up at the appropriate time," Smith said.

State Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican sponsoring one of two repeal bills, said the issue's exclusion from Republicans' priorities should not be misconstrued.

"Leadership simply announced their top priorities. There was no suggestion they're against this or we're divided," he said.

On Thursday, House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt unveiled the House GOP's legislative agenda which focuses on jobs and the economy -- and does not include repealing gay marriage. Bettencourt said Republicans agreed social issues were not their top priorities.

Asked about the exclusion, Bettencourt said any legislator can file a bill and have it voted on by the House.

"It will work its way through the process. It is not a priority," he said.

Asked if leadership would work against gay marriage repeal, he said Republicans are committed to working on their agenda.

Bates said he supports the GOP agenda regardless that repealing gay marriage is not included.

"The end result is not whether it appears on the agenda" because it will be voted on, Bates said.

Gay marriage was enacted in 2009 when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Democratic Gov. John Lynch signed the law and has since said he would veto any repeal attempt.

Conservatives were hoping for enough votes for both a repeal and veto override after voters in November gave Republicans control of the Legislature. Lynch defeated a Republican challenger who opposed gay marriage, despite ads run by national groups criticizing his decision to sign the bill.

Bates said his bill would repeal gay marriage, but not invalidate same-sex marriages performed before the repeal took effect. Bates said he withdrew a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman because it wouldn't go on the ballot until 2012 anyway if passed. He said he might reintroduce it next year.

Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, said she was pleased Republican leaders recognized gay marriage was not the reason voters sent them to Concord, but repeal opponents will keep working to defeat the bills.

"But we heard some wiggle room in today's remarks, leaving the door open to bring up a repeal of marriage equality in the coming weeks," she said.

The GOP agenda will support legislation falling under five categories: reducing government spending and regulations; pro-business reforms; pension reform; education reform; and personal rights and social responsibility.

Republicans claim Democrats left the state in a fiscal mess.

Estimates of the size of the state's budget hole range from $600 million to $800 million in a $3 billion budget funded by state taxes. The public pension system is only 58 percent funded.

Despite Bettencourt's insistence social issues aren't on the agenda, the goals include enacting a law requiring parental notification before a minor obtains an abortion. Bettencourt said it is a parent's right issue, not a social issue.

Bettencourt said Republicans hope to lower business taxes, but will have to first see if they can afford it.

House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli said Republicans made many promises with their agenda but offered few details. She said she hopes Republicans will not cut state costs by shifting them onto local property taxpayers.