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Critic, sponsor discuss gay marriage issue

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 25. 2012 11:47PM

Repealing New Hampshire's same-sex marriage law would put the state 'on the wrong side of history,' cautions former Rep. Jim Splaine, who sponsored that 2009 law.

The Portsmouth Democrat, who left the Legislature in 2010, said he can't predict what will happen when lawmakers take up the repeal bill, HB 437.

'But I do have a lot of faith in the innate fairness of enough New Hampshire legislators to say we are not going to take rights away for the first time ever,' he said.

''With liberty and justice for all' - the final few words that we say as our Pledge of Allegiance, those words mean something,' he said. 'And if any two people in New Hampshire who are differently gendered should have the right to marriage, as they do, then any two same-gendered people who want to share their lives together and their caring for one another in marriage should under state law have the right to do so.'

But Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, who sponsored HB 437, says the issue is not about civil rights at all.

'The primary purpose of this bill is to return our statutes back to the true meaning of 'marriage,'' he said.

'Civil rights have to do with intrinsic qualities that a person just can't change,' such as race or gender, Bates said. Homosexuality doesn't meet that criterion, he said, adding that not long ago it was referred to as 'sexual preference.'

'There's no other example of any basis that we afford a civil right based upon a behavior or a preferential choice,' he said.

Splaine, 64, said sexuality is not a choice. 'It's an orientation; it's not a preference,' he said. He didn't decide when he was a child to be gay, and Bates didn't decide to be straight, Splaine said.

'Because of that, because we are born that way - God does not make mistakes - we should be sure that, under our laws of governance, people are treated equally,' he said.

Not alone

Bates, 49, is surprised at all the attention he's been getting; Fox News and The New York Times wanted to talk with him last week. He says he's not the only one pushing for repeal.

But it was one of the reasons he decided to run for the Legislature five years ago, with the blessing of his wife and three sons. And he did promote petition warrant articles at town meetings two years ago calling for a statewide referendum to define 'marriage.'

For Bates, the issue is simple: 'We had what I consider a radically liberal Legislature impose upon our state a redefinition of 'marriage.'' It was a mistake, he says, that must be undone.

Why is marriage so important? The answers from these men show how differently the two sides view the issue.

Responded Splaine: 'It is a way to show the ultimate respect, appreciation, admiration and love for another human being.''

Said Bates: 'Because it is the primary institution through which society perpetuates itself. Obviously, the normal expected result of a marital union is the propagation of new life, and clearly society has an interest in that, and particularly in fostering the environment that's the most conducive to raising and nurturing the next generation of our society.'

For Splaine, the issue is 'marriage equality.'

'There's nothing more important than the way that we treat one another,' he said. 'We should not have a society with discrimination.'

Governor's view

That's also how Colin Manning, press secretary for Gov. John Lynch, referred to it Friday when he reiterated the governor's position on HB 437. 'Governor Lynch has been very clear that if a bill repealing marriage equality would reach his desk, he would veto it,' Manning said.

Bates rejects the idea that limiting marriage to a man and a woman is discrimination.

He says it's the other side that has been intolerant, forcing acceptance of homosexuality on families, religious organizations, schools and employers.

Bates said his legislation does not prevent anyone 'from having a loving relationship with whoever they want to.'

'That barrier was removed in 2003 when sodomy was legalized,' he said, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Texas' sodomy laws. 'All this bill is saying is society should not be compelled to call that, or sanction that, as a marriage.'

Bates calls 'same-sex marriage' an 'oxymoron,' noting, 'Marriage has always been, by the plain meaning of the word, the union of a man and woman.'

But even that is changing. Merriam-Webster Dictionary online defines 'marriage'' as: '(1): the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.'

Bates contends the key question is 'whose prerogative it is to define what marriage is.

'And I would suggest it is the prerogative of our society to define it,' he said.

Splaine said society changes 'based on the needs of today.'

'And equality is something that is, I think, a God-given right that laws have to reflect.'

What about those whose religious and moral beliefs tell them homosexuality - and gay marriage - is wrong?

'I don't question anybody's faith,' Splaine said. 'I pray every day. But I do think that our faith should guide our own lives but not the lives of others.'

'We should learn from what is happening overseas in so many places that we should never make our laws based on religion and faith leaders.'

Bates won't discuss how his own religious beliefs influence his political actions; doing so would only provide 'fuel for the fire' for opponents who paint him as a 'right-wing religious zealot,' he said.

He's never made the repeal about religion, he said. 'This is a matter of public policy, what we as the state of New Hampshire will recognize as marriage.'

Splaine noted the law only pertains to civil, not religious, marriage. 'Whatever anybody wants to do in a religious organization is their right in America, and we should have religious freedom,' he said.

But he said, 'For the purpose of a civil marriage, we should not discriminate.'

There are other prohibitions in the state's marriage law that bar unions with relatives or children, Bates said. 'If we're saying that these are valid parameters on marriage and that society has the right to determine what our society is going to recognize as a marriage, then society has the same right to say we don't recognize the union of two people of the same gender.'

'All of the laws we pass are supposed to be consistent with the will of the people,' he said. 'Any action of the Legislature that is not consistent with the will of the people is an unjust exercise of government authority.'

Splaine said there's even wider acceptance of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire today than when the law passed, with two out of three people in a recent poll saying the law should not be repealed. 'That tells me something about the people's will,' he said.

Under current law

Under Bates' bill, any same-sex marriages that occurred since the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2010, would still be legally valid.

But Splaine said that 'would seriously devalue those marriages.' And he said, 'That would be a horrible thing for the Legislature to do.'

It would create a separate class of individuals with rights not granted to other same-sex couples, Bates acknowledged. But he said, 'If people think that is not right, or unfair, the displeasure should be with the Democrats who created the situation, not with this bill that is simply trying to restore 'marriage' to its proper meaning.'

Splaine said he never had the chance to marry the person he loved. 'I did have a wonderful man in my life ... for 10 years,' he said. His partner died in 1994 after a car crash.

'He was on his way home from work for an anniversary dinner I was preparing,' Splaine recalled. 'My last words to him on the phone were, 'Hurry up. I don't want this to get cold.''

Had he lived, Splaine said, 'Darryl and I would have been among the first in line on Jan. 1, 2010, to get our marriage license.' And when he stood behind the governor as Lynch signed his marriage bill into law on June 3, 2010, he said, 'I was thinking of Darryl.'

'People should be able to share their love and caring for one another in marriage and be able to look at their loved one and say, 'We're married,'' he said. 'That's a wonderful thing to be able to say to the person you love.'

But Bates warns the repercussions of legalizing same-sex marriage may not be known for many years. He likens it to no-fault divorce, which was initially viewed as a good thing but which he said has led to more broken homes.

'I wish people would step back for a moment and reflect upon where we've come in such a short time,' he said. 'What we're talking about and what's trying to be represented as a wonderful, beautiful thing, this was illegal in almost every state a decade ago. To me, it's astounding the degree to which the homosexuals have been able to shift the sentiments of our society.'

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