New Hampshire House Rejects Marriage Equality Repeal

In a 211-116 vote on March 21, the Republican-dominated New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected an effort to repeal the state’s 2009 marriage equality law.

With opinion polls showing broad support for gay marriage in New Hampshire as well as big margins opposed to repeal, LGBT rights advocates felt they had a good shot at protecting the 2009 victory –– especially since Democratic Governor John Lynch, who signed the law nearly three years ago, vowed to veto any repeal bill that went to his desk. Still, the wide margin by which the repeal effort failed in getting even a simple majority came as something of a shock.

In a written statement, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) called the big vote against repeal “a surprise move.”

“Today is a banner day for the freedom to marry,” said Craig Stowell, a Republican who is co-chair of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a group that led the battle against repeal. “Our opponents have been crowing about getting their two-thirds, but in the end, it’s clear they couldn’t muster the votes.”

Stowell, a former marine who considers himself a conservative, joined the battle to defend his gay brother’s right to marry.

New Hampshire’s marriage equality law was adopted in a 14-10 vote in the State Senate and by a 198-176 margin in the House in June 2009. At that time, Democrats held narrow margins in both chambers.

As a result of the 2010 election, however, Republicans dominate both the House and Senate, with 293-105 and 19-5 majorities, respectively. That drastic flip gave hope to opponents of same-sex couples’ right to marry that Republicans could achieve two-thirds majorities in both houses to overcome Lynch’s veto.

Some of the Republicans elected two years ago are Libertarians disinclined to interfere with the established rights of gay couples. Others, looking to opinion polls and the public’s overriding concern about the weak economy, were unhappy about reopening the gay marriage question.

“This victory was made possible by Republicans and conservatives standing up for freedom and family,” HRC’s president, Joe Solmonese, said in a written statement. “Clearly, Granite Staters believe this is a settled issue, and it’s time to move on.”

“Log Cabin Republicans celebrate the fact that this historic vote happened in a legislature with not just a Republican majority, but a super-majority,” said R. Clarke Cooper, that group’s executive director. “This is a good day for all New Hampshire families, and we are proud of the hard work by Republican leaders across the state who helped to make this victory possible.”

The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a legal advocacy group, scored critical victories paving the way for the 2000 Vermont civil union law and winning marriage equality in the high courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The group’s executive director, Lee Swislow, released a statement saying, “Today’s victory affirmed the equality of New Hampshire’s gay and lesbian citizens. After the last election, where Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate, some thought that marriage equality was doomed. But many, many Republicans courageously stood up against repeal. We thank them and we congratulate Standing Up for New Hampshire Families and all the organizations and individuals who worked so hard to protect the freedom to marry.”