By Cara Hogan
After just a year, gay marriage in New Hampshire could be history.
More than 1,000 couples have legally married their same-sex spouses in New Hampshire since Jan. 1, 2010, but the state's newly Republican-dominated Legislature wants to stop future marriages. Local as well as outside interests are getting ready for a long fight over the next year.
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, has already filed two bills to return the marriage law to exactly what it was four years ago. His bill strictly defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but also has a caveat so marriages performed the past year would remain legal.
"I'm quite comfortable that the bill will pass both the House and the Senate," Bates said. "I think the real challenge will be if the governor chooses to veto this."
If Democratic Gov. John Lynch does veto the bill, the Legislature needs two-thirds of members present to override his veto.
Mo Baxley, executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, said the attempt to repeal the law is a waste of the Legislature's time.
"It seems foolhardy to pursue this when they know they can't win," she said. "The governor has already publicly stated he will veto the bill, and I don't believe they'll be able to round up the votes to override a veto."
She said legislators should focus their time, energy and money on job creation and the budget instead.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said gay marriage is not the Republican Party's first concern.
"Right now we're concerned about the economy," he said. "We need to get people back to work first."
But Baldasaro said Republicans can work on the economy while also working to repeal a law he feels does not reflect the true beliefs and values of New Hampshire residents.
"All of a sudden you wake up one day and money is being dumped into New Hampshire by out-of-state groups and lobbyists are pushing gay marriage," Baldasaro said. "During the vote, you had people who didn't have the guts to vote on it. People in New Hampshire should vote on the issue."
Baldasaro said he agrees with the movement Let New Hampshire Vote, which supports a constitutional amendment to take up a vote on the law in 2012, similar to the Proposition 8 vote in California.
Both Bates's bill and the amendment have support from outside the state. The local coalition Cornerstone Action and the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council both have promised to support the fight against gay marriage in New Hampshire.
Danville resident Kate Russell married her wife Lynn Taylor on the very first day the new law went into effect. Russell said if the state overturned the gay marriage law, she would not let it stand.
"I would look to have a civil lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire," she said. "I think they would be opening up a can of worms."
Jim Splaine, a former Democratic state representative, was the primary sponsor of the marriage equality bill in 2009, and said he's sad to see Republicans trying to repeal the law.
"I don't think it's the New Hampshire way to take rights away from people," he said. "We'd have a double standard. I think that equal opportunity to marry is a New Hampshire way."
He said the Legislature already went thought 12 hours of debate, 13 hours of public hearings, and a six-month process during which it made its decision. He said there is no reason to go through the issue again.
Splaine also had harsh words for outside interest groups interfering in New Hampshire politics.
"I think those groups should stay outside; this is a New Hampshire issue," he said. "It was decided by New Hampshire citizens. No one from outside the state asked me to sponsor this bill in 2008. I'm hoping this does not become a national battle."
Though Splaine did not run for re-election this year, he doesn't plan to stop working on the issue of gay marriage. He said he will testify before the Legislature if necessary.
"I think this is going to be a long-term issue," he said. "There might be a move to put the question to the ballot in 2012, and we might end up discussing this for a couple of years."
Bates said the issue comes down to society's prerogative to decide what relationships should be recognized by society.
"For all of our history, marriage meant the union of a man and a woman," he said. "We have the right to say these are not relationships we will sanction and recognize as marriage, just like we don't recognize a marriage between an adult and child or between father and daughter."
Russell said all she wants is for people to move on and stop trying to legislate her personal life.
"It's very important to have my rights validated and secured by the state of New Hampshire, and hopefully, one day, by the federal government," she said. "One day, people will see how wrong it is, just as they saw how ridiculous it was to keep black and white people from marrying each other."
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.