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By Lisa Keen
In a dramatic surprise and major victory for supporters of marriage equality for same-sex couples, the Republican-dominated New Hampshire House voted Wednesday (March 21) not to repeal the state’s two-year-old marriage equality law. The vote was 202 to 133.
Emotion filled the voices of supporters of the legislation after the vote, as they then asked the House to vote the repeal measure as “inexpedient to legislate,” a formality to finalize rejection of the bill. That vote was 211 to 116 and was followed by sustained applause and cheers in the chamber.
Many political observers expected House Republicans – who comprise three-fourths of the 400-member chamber – to approve the bill. But early votes Wednesday hinted that something else was going to happen.
The first vote tried to split the issues in the bill’s – with one vote on repeal and another on the proposal to ask voters to weigh in on the issue in November. That vote went down in defeat, as did an attempt to take that vote a second time.
The House even voted on an amendment to bar left-handed people from marrying–that went down in defeat, too. And the House twice rejected an amendment to send the issue to voters and to replace marriages for same-sex couples with civil unions.
The debate contained the usual arguments for and against same-sex marriage – including claims that allowing same-sex marriage leads to polygamy, “polyamory,” and beastility.
More than 100 of the House’s 296 Republicans voted against repeal and a number of them spoke out against the repeal measure on the floor.
One Republican, who said he has a close relative who is gay, said he did not approve of same-sex marriages but he supports limited government and urged a vote “against this horrible legislation.”
State Rep. Mike Ball, chairman of the Republican Committee in Manchester, told his colleagues that the effort to ban same-sex couples from marrying was the same as laws banning interracial couples from marrying and attitudes that allowed segregation of the races for many decades.
“These folks are people just like you are,” said Ball. “The bill takes away civil unions and marriage and it needs to be put down.”
Ball had predicted on Monday that many Republicans would not support the repeal measure.
“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,” said Ball, during a press conference Monday at the State House, according to a Concord Monitor report.
Democratic Governor John Lynch had promised to veto any effort to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire.
Craig Stowell, a co-chair of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, said he, too, was in tears following the vote.
Standing Up for New Hampshire Families organized opposition to the repeal measure, noting prominently that polls indicated 62 percent of New Hampshire voters oppose repealing the law.
But the repeal effort had the support of Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien and Stowell worried that the vote was unpredictable.
Concord Monitor reporter Annmarie Timmins, blogging live from the state house, speculated that some legislators might take a strategically timed “bathroom break” during the vote on the marriage repeal measure. It appears that may have happened.
The repeal bill included a provision that would have put on November’s ballot a question asking, “Shall New Hampshire law allow civil unions for same-sex couples and define marriage as the union of one man and one woman?” The repeal bill also stipulated that same-sex couples which have already obtained marriage licenses will continue to have their marriages recognized by the state. Approximately 1,900 such couples have obtained marriage licenses since January 2010 when the marriage equality law took effect. The repeal bill would have enabled same-sex couples to obtain civil unions only.
The Manchester Union-Leader asked the leading candidates for governor whether they would sign into law a repeal bill that voters had said “No” to. The two Republicans dodged, reiterating only that they oppose same-sex marriage; the two Democrats reiterated their strong support for marriage equality. Maggie Hassan said, “I oppose any repeal of marriage equality.” Jackie Cilley said “there will be no compromise” by her administration when it comes to protecting marriage equality.
The Concord Monitor noted that the current bill is Bates’ fourth version of a bill to repeal the marriage equality law. The law took effect in January 2010.
The Concord Monitor editorialized against repeal. The Manchester Union-Leader editorialized for repeal.