The outcome of the gubernatorial race in New Hampshire could be crucial in determining the fate of marriage equality in the state, which was the first to have a governor sign it without it being taken away through referendum.
A victory for the GOP candidate, attorney Ovide Lamontagne, would likely mean Republicans in the state legislature would only need a majority vote to repeal marriage rights for gay couples. Previously, they needed a supermajority to override the veto of Democrat Gov. John Lynch as they would if the Democrat seeking to replace him, former State Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan, wins the governor’s race.
Ray Buckley, who’s gay and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the gubernatorial contest is the prime focus in New Hampshire for Democrats because they’re unlikely to regain a majority in the legislature after Republicans won a supermajority following the 2010 election.
“Simply put, marriage is at stake,” Buckley said. “The priority here really has to be the governor’s office, and if there’s one candidate in New Hampshire that is more extreme than Ovide Lamontagne when it comes to social issues — whether reproductive issues or marriage equality — I’ve never heard of him. He is a far-right zealot and he would actively work towards repealing the law. All they would need is a one-vote victory in both chambers.”
At the start of this year, LGBT advocates feared that the Republican supermajority would muster enough votes to override a veto of a measure to repeal the same-sex marriage law, which was signed by Gov. John Lynch in 2009. But lawmakers didn’t even send the bill to the governor. In March, the New Hampshire House rejected a measure to repeal marriage equality by a vote of 211-116. Still, many political observers say lawmakers did so because they didn’t believe they had enough have votes to overcome the governor’s veto and would revisit the issue if they only needed a bare majority to repeal it.
The gubernatorial candidates have offered distinct views on marriage equality over the course of their campaigns, although the degree to which Lamontagne would push for repeal of same-sex marriage remains uncertain.
Hassan’s support for marriage equality can be found on her website, where she touts her leadership in passing the legislation in 2009 before she ultimately lost her seat to a Republican in 2010. Marc Goldberg, a Hassan spokesperson, assured the Blade via email she would veto any measure to repeal same-sex marriage.
“Maggie believes in the rights of all citizens to participate fully in the civic and economic life of our communities,” the website states. “In the State Senate, she was instrumental in passing marriage equality in New Hampshire. The Concord Monitor reported ‘Hassan helped gay marriage pass the Senate by crafting an amendment that won over hesitant senators. Former state representative Jim Splaine, who sponsored the legislation, said Hassan was able to find a consensus among Democratic senators that the existing civil union law was not sufficient.’”
Lamontagne’s views on marriage equality aren’t found on his website, but his public statements on the issue have been recorded by news outlets. His campaign wouldn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on marriage.
Asked about marriage equality by students at Central High School in May, Lamontagne reportedly said he opposes same-sex marriage, but suggested it wasn’t a priority for him. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Lamontagne said at the time, “I am a social conservative, and I believe in traditional marriage, but I’m not running to deal with that issue.”
But that differed from what Lamontagne declared at a Tea Party rally in March, when he positioned himself as a strong opponent of marriage equality. According to the Nashua Telegraph, Lamontagne told the crowd, “If Gov. Lynch prevents a return to traditional marriage, you can count on me to aggressively work to make this happen once I’m governor.”
Polls show a tight race, although Hassan seems to enjoy a slight lead in the days prior to Election Day. An NBC News/WSJ/Marist poll published Wednesday gave Hassan a five-point lead over Lamontagne. But a New England College poll published Monday found the race was a dead heat with Hassan and Lamontagne both winning 45 percent of support.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, emphasized the importance of electing Hassan to ensure marriage equality remains the law in New Hampshire.
“New Hampshire’s marriage equality law remains very popular in the state but some leaders are determined to reverse progress,” Cole-Schwartz said. “It’s essential that we elect Maggie Hassan as governor to ensure that the state continues to respect all loving and committed couples.”