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House votes today on gay marriage repeal

State House Bureau

March 20. 2012 9:08PM

CONCORD - A year ago, more than 600 people decked out in red - signaling their opposition - attended the public hearing on House Bill 437, which would repeal the state's gay marriage law.

Today, the House finally votes on a bill much different than the one originally proposed that drew the opposition a year ago.

Although changed, the current repeal proposal is no more likely to garner support from gay marriage supporters than the original.

The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, wants to let voters have their say through a nonbinding referendum on the issue.

Bates has said letting voters decide would put the question to rest. 'In November we will find out once and for all, unequivocally what the citizens of New Hampshire want,' he said last week.

Opponents call the proposed referendum a distraction and say poll after poll shows wide support among New Hampshire residents for retaining the current law.

New Hampshire does not allow binding voter referendums, unlike other states including Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado and California.

Some House members oppose the bill because of the referendum component and a floor amendment is possible today to remove it

There will be a number of other floor amendments today, including one by Rep. Seth Cohn, R-Canterbury, to prevent two left-handed people from marrying.

Another would remove the state from regulating marriage while establishing domestic union contracts to provide identical benefits .

The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 to approve the bill.

Bates said his latest proposal would replace the 'illegitimate' definition of marriage with what he says is the traditional and natural definition as being between one man and one woman.

He said his bill would replace gay marriage with civil unions; limit civil unions so there would be no possibility of incest; eliminate the religious or moral exemptions for employment, housing and public accommodations; and clarify that same-sex marriages under the current statute would still be valid if the law is repealed.

Both supporters and opponents of the repeal have waged lengthy and expensive ad campaigns, press conferences and grassroots efforts to sway lawmakers.

Standing up for New Hampshire Families, which opposes the repeal, has a long list of bipartisan supporters and activists including long-time New Hampshire politicians. A political action committee (PAC) was established to support Republicans who voted against the repeal.

Repeal supporters led by the National Organization for Marriage have also established a PAC to aid lawmakers who support the repeal.

Last week, the group announced its support for Bates' proposal, calling it a compromise.

The Catholic Diocese of Manchester, which opposes gay marriage, also asked its members to urge their lawmakers to support the latest version of the bill.

Both sides say the vote will be close and repeal opponents believe they may be able to kill the bill today, but the bill is more likely to pass.

If the House approves the bill today, it would go to the Senate, which would need to approve it to send it to the governor.

Gov. John Lynch has vowed to veto the repeal. If he does, the House would need a two -thirds majority to override the veto, which most believe is not likely to happen.

Lawmakers approved civil unions in 2007 and then in 2009 approved gay marriage, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2010. Since that time, 1,906 same-sex couples have wed under the law.

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