NH lawmakers bring dueling bills on gay marriage

Posted on 04 Feb 2009 at 11:58am
By Travis Anderson Associated Press

Democrat backing bill to allow gay marriage says it is a matter of fairness

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire hasn’t closed the book on gay marriage, though lawmakers on both sides of the debate would like to.

They’re back this session with competing bills on same-sex marriage, one year after a law granting civil unions to gay couples took effect in the Granite State.

For Democratic state Rep. Jim Splaine, the sponsor of a bill to allow gay marriage, it’s a matter of fairness.

"There’s a strong commitment on the part of many who want to see us march toward full equality," Splaine said.

Republican state Rep. Leo Pepino sees things a bit differently. He’s sponsoring a bill to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. His bill as written would not only ban gay marriage but also repeal the civil union law.

"My [original] bill had nothing to do with civil unions," he said, adding that legislative staffers sometimes make mistakes when they write bills. He said he would ask the House Judiciary Committee to remove the civil union portion when he testified on the matter Thursday, Feb. 5.

The committee was also set to hear testimony Thursday on Splaine’s bill. The Rev. V. Gene Robinson is scheduled to testify in favor of the bill, according to spokesman Mike Barwell. The U.S. Episcopal Church consecrated Robinson as its first openly gay bishop in 2003, prompting a rift with the global Anglican Communion, which the church belongs to.

"He’s enthusiastic about making sure that we fight discrimination and win," Splaine said.

Meanwhile, other bills would tweak the civil unions law. Republican state Rep. Robert Rowe’s has a bill to allow straight couples, as well as relatives of the same gender, to enter civil unions. He said relatives should have the right to enter civil unions for insurance purposes.

Republican state Rep. David Hess is sponsoring a bill to bar New Hampshire from recognizing gay marriages in other states as civil unions. Current law allows this recognition. He said he wants to reverse the statute, because it could lead to adopting gay marriage in the Granite State.

More than 620 couples have had civil unions in New Hampshire since the law took effect in Jan. 2008. New Jersey and Vermont also allow civil unions, while California, Oregon and Washington, D.C. offer domestic partnerships that carry similar rights, according to Chris Edelson, state legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign.

The Washington, D.C.-based group lobbies for gay marriage rights nationwide. Edelson said the group is following the New Hampshire marriage bills with interest.

"It’s exciting that they’re doing this," Edelson said. "Even though Vermont is probably more likely to pass a [gay marriage] bill."

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay marriage at present. Kevin Smith, incoming director of Cornerstone Policy Research in New Hampshire, said his group will do everything it can to keep New Hampshire off that list.

"We really think this comes down to what’s in the best interest of a child’s welfare," Smith said, adding that a representative from the conservative think-tank would testify against Splaine’s bill. He said Cornerstone has also partnered with several national groups — including the American Family Association and Focus on the Family — to fund anti-gay–marriage spots that could air on radio and television stations in about a month.

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