CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire's House Republican leader said Friday he will ask that the fight to repeal gay marriage be postponed until 2012.
Rep. D.J. Bettencourt told The Associated Press he will ask the committee responsible for the repeal bill to retain it until next year.
Bettencourt said the National Organization for Marriage sent a direct mailer to his district in Salem saying he doesn't support traditional family values. He said the mailer was the result of his announcement last week that the House Republican agenda did not include repealing gay marriage.
Bettencourt said the incident shows how controversial the issue is and reinforces his belief the House should focus on fiscal issues this year.
In a letter to House Speaker William O'Brien, Bettencourt said the organization and its supporters in New Hampshire know the repeal bill will be acted upon because legislative rules require floor votes on bills.
"This assault on our agenda has the potential to take important focus and energy away from our focus on the budget," Bettencourt wrote O'Brien. "Therefore, it is my belief that the same sex marriage repeal must be retained in the Judiciary Committee this year so that our full and undivided attention is focused on New Hampshire's outstanding financial issues."
Bettencourt said his office will make that position clear in testimony it provides at any hearing on the bill.
State Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, the bill's prime sponsor, said he won't fight leadership, but will tell the committee handling his bill he believes it would be better to put the issue to rest this year.
"It's controversial, but this only drags out the controversy rather than bringing it to a conclusion sooner. I don't know why we'd want to elongate it over 15 months," said Bates.
Bates added that the budget is not the only important issue lawmakers must address.
"As much as we're making that a priority, there are all kinds of things going on," he said.
Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, which supports gay marriage, called it a "clear effort by a small but well-funded group to bully the GOP House majority leader."
"As any responsible leader would, Bettencourt is focused on creating jobs and economic recovery, the main reason why voters put Republicans in charge in New Hampshire," she said.
Gay marriage was enacted two years ago when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who said he opposed gay marriage, signed the law after lawmakers approved provisions affirming religious rights and has since repeatedly said he would veto any attempt to repeal it.
Conservatives were hoping for enough votes in the Legislature to repeal gay marriage and overturn a veto after Republicans took control in November. The National Organization for Marriage and another opposition group, Cornerstone Action, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads in an effort to defeat Lynch in last year's governor's race and elect lawmakers who would support a repeal.