CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire lawmakers moved closer to a vote Tuesday on repealing the state's 15-month-old same-sex marriage law and replacing it with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 to recommend wiping the gay marriage law off the books and establishing civil unions for any unmarried adults competent to enter into a contract. The committee recommended killing a second bill that would simply repeal gay marriage.
The full House must vote on the bills early next year. If the House passes the repeal bill, it would go to the Senate.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has repeatedly said he will veto attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the law, which he signed in 2009. New Hampshire enacted civil unions in 2007 for same-sex couples and two years later replaced that law with the marriage law. Lynch also signed the civil unions law.
Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, predicted that if the Legislature passes the bill, it won't survive a veto.
New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. New York is the latest state to legalize the unions.
When Republicans took control of the New Hampshire Legislature last year, conservatives began working to repeal gay marriage. House Republican leaders pushed successfully to have the Judiciary Committee hold onto the bills until January while lawmakers focused on the state budget.
The bill would not enact the same civil unions law that was in effect before gays were allowed to marry. That law granted gays all the rights and responsibilities of marriage except in name. The proposed civil unions law would be open to any two adults and would let anyone refuse to recognize the unions. It also would allow anyone to discriminate against the couples in employment, housing and public accommodations based on religious or moral beliefs.
Supporters said the two proposed repeal bills would not apply to gay marriages that have already occurred, but would stop new ones. More than 1,500 New Hampshire gay couples have married so far under the current law.
But opponents said the law has conflicting provisions that appear to bar the courts from recognizing same-sex relationships as valid, while declaring gay marriages in effect before the repeal took effect to remain valid.
"That creates a legal nightmare," said Claire Ebel of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
State Rep. David Bates, the bill's sponsor, said the section in question refers to future relationships.
Others questioned whether allowing civil unions between relatives would amount to condoning incest. State Rep. Gregory Sorg, R-Easton, said the bill would not do so.
Bates also said there is no reason to limit civil unions and the legal protections they provide solely to same-sex couples or speculate on the unions' sexual nature.
State Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, called the bill "mean-minded" and "a masterpiece of muddled drafting" that would create a nightmare for couples in the new form of civil unions.
Sorg said Democrats created the problem two years ago when they legalized marriage knowing a new Legislature might want to overturn the law.
Sorg and Bates also defended the bill for finding that "children can only be conceived naturally through copulation by heterosexual couples."
"Because of this biological reality, New Hampshire has a unique, distinct and compelling interest in promoting stable and committed marital unions between opposite-sex couples so as to increase the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by both of their natural parents," the bill states.
Sorg said the purpose of marriage is to produce a child and raise it in that home.
"That is an incredible slap in the face to infertile couples, childless couples, foster parents, adoptive parents and loving step-parents," Weber said.