EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 18, 2012

Same-sex marriage vote delayed

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

State Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, was ready to vote today to oppose a repeal of the state's same-sex marriage law.

The issue was not on the House calendar, but lawmakers expected to cast their votes, she said.

But Republican House leaders have delayed the vote on gay marriage, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said yesterday.

"The legislation will not be considered for a floor vote until February," Bettencourt said in an email.

"We must deal with some critical financial and economic-related legislation first, as well as legislative redistricting, prior to any discussion of gay marriage," he said. "It's critical to keep legislative priorities in their proper order."

Bettencourt said in late December the House would most likely vote on the issue Jan. 11 or today.

Yesterday, Bettencourt said he was only speculating at the time and that House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, controls the House calendar.

The vote on House Bill 437 was never formally scheduled, Bettencourt said.

But Pantelakos, a 34-year House member, said that was news to her.

"I was definitely looking to vote on it today," she said.

Pantelakos, 76, said she spent the entire day in Concord yesterday and had not heard about a delay. She said it's not unusual for the GOP leadership to postpone action on bills.

"I don't know why it was put off," Pantelakos said. "I assume someone has said they won't get enough votes for it and want to push it back. It's not a good way to do business."

The bill's lead sponsor is Rep. David Bates, R-Windham.

Bates said yesterday there was never any plan to debate his legislation today. The top priority today is a legislative redistricting bill, he said.

Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has promised to veto a same-sex marriage repeal if the bill reaches his desk.

The House postponed voting on the bill last session to focus on the state's budget and other economic issues.

Although the vote on gay marriage will occur in February, the overall focus has not changed, Bettencourt said.

"Today, our citizens are most concerned about pocketbook issues like taxes, controlled spending, job creation and creating a business-friendly environment, and that is where we intend to remain focused," he said.

More than 1,800 gay couples have gotten married in New Hampshire since the same-sex law took effect two years ago, according to the state Division of Vital Records.

Pantelakos said she has received many emails from constituents who say the law should remain in place.

"It's an issue we don't ever need to be dealing with," she said.

"In our Constitution, it says we are all equal, so why shouldn't they be allowed to marry?" Pantelakos said.

New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said he wasn't surprised to hear the vote will not be taken until February.

"(O'Brien) will call votes on bills without any public notice," he said.

Shannon Shutts, O'Brien's spokeswoman, said the only unscheduled votes occur when attempting to override vetoes.

In the two 10 days of this legislative session, the House has voted on issues that could have waited, including gun legislation, Kirstein said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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