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APNewsBreak: NH rep drops gay marriage amendment

By Norma Love
Associated Press / November 1, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—The sponsor of a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage has decided not to pursue the measure next year to clear the way for a debate over repealing New Hampshire's law legalizing the unions.

State Rep. David Bates, the Windham Republican who also is sponsor of the repeal bill, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he wants to let the Legislature consider repealing the law enacted under Democrats two years ago before debating a constitutional change -- a process that would take longer to implement.

"The bill to change the meaning of marriage back to what it was in statute is well on its way," Bates said.

Bates said he did not want to risk having lawmakers choosing between two measures: the bill and a constitutional amendment.

"It would complicate the decision for legislators if there was another alternative out there," he said.

The legislative process seems the appropriate way to decide the issue, he said. If a constitutional amendment is used, millions of dollars in out-of-state money would flow into New Hampshire on both sides of the issue, he said.

"I don't think that's the way people want it decided," he said.

Constitutional amendments need three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses to be placed on the ballot and two-thirds approval of the voters to be adopted.

Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Another 30 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to recommend replacing the law legalizing same-sex marriage with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives. The committee recommended killing a bill that simply repealed the law.

The full House must vote on the bills early next year. If the House passes the repeal bill, it would go to the Senate. It takes a majority to pass bills.

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.

Repeal opponents, including some Republican lawmakers, believe the vote to pass the bill in the House early next year will be close. They believe if it passes and is vetoed, they have the votes to sustain a veto. It takes a two-thirds vote of those present and voting to override a veto.

On the other hand, Bates said he believes the law will be repealed.

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 such 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.

Others questioned whether allowing civil unions between relatives would amount to condoning incest. Supporters say it does not do so.