UPDATE: According to sources at national Log Cabin Republicans, the vote split by party in New Hampshire was 119 Republicans voting not to repeal, while 92 Democrats voted against repeal, leaving 13 Democrats not willing to go on the record in favor of preserving same-sex marriage.
An effort to overturn marriage equality in New Hampshire appears to be dead for the year after a Republican-controlled state House of Representatives failed to pass a repeal measure, despite desperate last-minute attempts to make the bill more palatable to moderates by author Rep. David Bates.
In a 211-116 vote, the legislature gave same-sex marriage advocates something to cheer about when, after hours of procedural efforts to keep the bill alive, enough GOP lawmakers voted against the bill to rescind the right to marry from New Hampshire residents.
Several Republicans crossed the aisle to defeat the measure, including Reps. Mike Ball and Jennifer Coffey, who spoke out against the bill last week along with other advocates and Democratic lawmakers at a news conference organized by the marriage equality group Standing Up For New Hampshire Families.
During a long and contentious debate on the bill in which the same amendment was brought back for reconsideration twice, strong statements were made on all sides of the issue.
“God is my judge, this legislative body is not my judge,” Rep. Cameron DeJong proclaimed. “Allow me to have this discussion between my God and me about my decisions.”
Rep. Ball compared the bill to segregation in the South, “Let’s put this dog down, like it deserves to be.”
In a surreal moment during the debate, an amendment to the bill was introduced to also bar marriage between left-handed people. That amendment failed to be considered.
House bill 437, which would have prevented New Hampshire from recognizing any new same-sex marriages and revived the 2007 civil unions law in its place, was introduced last year by GOP Rep. Bates, along with 11 Republican co-sponsors. After the bill lost traction in the House last week, Bates introduced an amendment that would put a nonbinding question on the issue before voters in November, prior to the law’s official repeal date in March 2013, as well as have left intact the 2,000 existing same-sex marriages already recognized by the state, much like California’s post-Proposition 8 law that created, what advocates call 15,000 “limited edition” legally recognized same-sex marriages in that state.
The floor amendment, meant to give the law a better chance of surviving a veto, failed to be adopted after a vote of 162-188, leaving the bill less likely to become law in the long run.
After a failed first vote on returning to civil unions, the legislature voted to divide the combined civil unions-referendum amendment into separate issues, an effort that also failed on a vote of 128 to 222.
During that debate, Rep. David Welch — who at one time opposed same-sex marriage, but is now a vocal opponent of the measure to repeal it on constitutional grounds — called on his colleagues to vote against the amendment containing the call for referendum and for reinstating civil unions. “The legislature has given rights to certain members of our community, and we should not vote to take them away.”
The veteran lawmaker repeatedly called into question the constitutionality of HB 437 throughout the debate.
Also opposing the amendment was Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper, who urged the legislature to drop the bill and send a clean binding referendum to the people, rather than the planned non-binding ballot measure.
He was followed by pro-gay Republican Rep. Jennifer Coffey, who called for an end to the push against committed same-sex couples, saying if a voter opposes same-sex marriage, they’re not obligated to enter into such a marriage.
“This body has set in motion a ping-pong ball with people’s lives,” Coffey told her colleagues.
Countering the call for a ballot initiative, Rep. Steve Murphy (R- Bedford) declared, “The rights of the people are not subject to popular vote.”
Earlier, the initial vote on the civil unions amendment — prior to the multiple votes to reconsider — failed on a vote of 82 to 266.
During the debate of the first civil unions amendment on the floor, Rep. Dan McGuire said he has three lesbians in his life, including his “mother and sister,” but supports the amendment that will end marriage because he supports the “dictionary definition” of marriage, and says that this is an issue of “extreme political correctness.”
Also speaking in favor of the civil unions amendment was Rep. Marilinda Garcia, who argued that allowing couples who have no biological ability to create children would weaken marriage for those that do have that ability.
The bill could still be revived in the overwhelmingly Republican-controlled Senate, where its fate would be in the hands of the handful of moderate Republicans.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch repeatedly vowed to veto House bill 437.
Recent polls show that respondents oppose ending same-sex marriage by up to 62 percent, however, no state electorate in the country has yet approved full marriage rights for same-sex couples via the ballot.
Five other states, and the District of Columbia, have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New York. Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a gender neutral marriage bill that will take effect on January 1, pending the result of a likely November ballot measure. Likewise, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into law a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples going into effect also pending a voter initiative. In addition, the New Jersey legislature passed a same-sex marriage law in February, but will need to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto by the end of the legislative session in 2014.
New Hampshire became the fifth state in the nation to expand marriage rights to include same-sex couples, the third to do so without being compelled to by a court, and the second to pass through the legislature with a governor’s signature — current Gov. John Lynch — following Maine’s Gov. John Baldacci earlier that year. The marriage law went into effect in early 2010, and thousands of same-sex couples have taken advantage of the rights.