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October 25. 2011 8:24PM

Repeal of same-sex marriage advances


Rev. Thomas Pleetz, left, from Word of Life Christian Fellowship in Concord, signs a petition for repealing a 2009 law allowing gays and lesbians to wed at the State House in Concord last February. (Thomas Roy)
CONCORD — The state's law allowing gay marriage would be repealed under a bill that a House committee endorsed Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 to pass an amended version of HB 437. The bill repeals gay marriage, but continues the validity of same-sex marriages already in place. It states that once the bill takes effect, the state will recognize only marriage between a man and a woman.

It sets up a form of civil union that can confer the rights and benefits of marriage to those who join in them. But the bill suspends state anti-discrimination laws that would otherwise allow legal action against people, groups or corporations who refuse to recognize the rights of people in a civil union.

Bill sponsor Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, said the repeal of gay marriage is the most important part of the bill.

Conservatives praised the development, saying voters elected an overwhelming majority of Republicans in 2010 in response to the passage of the gay marriage law.

Critics said the repeal bill is a drastic move, which not only takes away a right from a select group of people, but also specifically allows discrimination against them.

Bates said there is popular support for repeal, noting that in every state voters have had a chance to vote on same-sex marriage, they have rejected it.

“In my opinion the definition of marriage never should have been changed to begin with,” he said after the committee vote.

Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, said the bill makes a mess of inheritance and probate laws, and insults not only the gay population, but anyone who falls outside a narrow range of marital behavior.

“This is the most mean-minded piece of legislation to come before me since I have been sitting in this House,” she said, describing it as a “masterpiece of muddled drafting.”

The bill is written to allow anyone, including brothers and sisters, to enter into civil unions. Critics said that seems to violate state incest laws, but Bates said they are wrong. The bill does not negate other existing laws, he said, adding, “there is no reason for us to speculate on the sexual nature of that relationship.”

The important point, he said, is that the bill restores marriage in its traditional form and provides an option to those who do not want to marry or cannot under the law.

Democrats on the committee were critical of the bill, its intent and the way it is drafted. It bars courts from recognizing same-sex marriages as valid, but continues the validity of those already performed, they said.

Weber said language in the bill that says true marriage is about producing children, “is an incredible slap in the face to infertile couples, childless couples, foster parents, adoptive parents and loving step-parents.”

Rep. Frances Potter, D-Concord, said the bill will confer “second-class status on hundreds of New Hampshire children who have same-sex parents.”

Conservatives praised the action. Ellen Kolb of Cornerstone Action said the repeal is “an important first step toward correcting an overreach committed by the previous majority in the legislature.”

She said, “A measure that restores traditional marriage while providing for civil unions reflects the will of the people as expressed in the last statewide election.”

Those who oppose the measure think it is destined to fail. Mo Baxley of N.H. Freedom to Marry, which supports gay marriage, said “this goes just too far.”

She said the bill has already created division among Republicans, with two votes against it in committee. She said the bill will not survive the veto Gov. John Lynch has promised if it gets to his desk.

“This simply is not going to become law,” Baxley said, noting that if it passed, “this would undoubtedly create a legal nightmare.”

The bill goes next to the full House for consideration when it convenes in January.

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