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March 22. 2012 11:17PM

Gay marriage fight isn't over, legislators say

CONCORD — The move to repeal gay marriage may have been put to rest for now, but the battle is likely to continue, legislators say.

After more than two hours of debate and 11 votes Wednesday, the House voted 211-116 to kill HB 437, which would have repealed the gay marriage statutes. A total of 119 Republicans joined with 92 Democrats to kill the bill, while 115 Republicans and one Democrat voted to keep it alive.

The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, said it is foolish to think the issue will not be back before lawmakers, particularly if there is a change in the governor's office.

Gov. John Lynch signed both the civil union bill in 2007 and the gay marriage bill in 2007. He had vowed to veto the repeal bill if it made its way to his desk this year.

“If we have a governor the next term more favorable to traditional marriage,” Bates said Thursday, “that will change the dynamics considerably.”

The two Democratic candidates for governor, former state senators Maggie Hassan of Exeter and Jackie Cilley of Barrington, support gay marriage. The two announced Republican candidates, Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, oppose it.

Bates said lawmakers missed a great opportunity to determine what the people of New Hampshire want, he said, when the House failed to pass his proposed amendment to let voters decide the issue in a non-binding referendum.

“That would have clearly established what the people of this state want,” Bates said. “Instead we are left with an ongoing saga that will come before us again and again and again.”

Campaigns planned

Opponents and supporters of gay marriage have established political action committees to support candidates who support their views.

The New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality political action committee (PAC), pledged to raise at least $100,000 for the upcoming elections to support and defend Republican lawmakers who voted to protect gay marriage.

“I am so proud of my fellow Republicans who understood that freedom and liberty mean freedom for all of us, including the freedom to marry,” said Sean Owen, PAC chair. “Our party can firmly claim to be the party of the future because today they stood up for all New Hampshire families. We promise to stand with them this November and beyond.”

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) plans to use its national donor base to raise at least $250,000 for television commercials and candidate donations to support candidates who favor repealing the law.

The group's president, Brian Brown, warned Wednesday it would target lawmakers who voted against the repeal.

“This is a sad day for New Hampshire families who in 2010 had elected what they thought was a solid pro-marriage majority,” Brown said. “They were once again let down by politicians who promised them one thing and then left them at the altar when the vote was on the line. These legislators will be held accountable.”

A core issue

Wendy Warcholik, executive director of Cornerstone Action, said “traditional marriage is one of our core issues.”

The issue is certainly one her organization would consider in deciding which candidates it might endorse, Warcholik said.

New Hampshire Democratic State Party Chairman Raymond Buckley viewed Wednesday's vote both as a victory for equality and a refutation of House Speaker William O'Brien's agenda.

“New Hampshire has been a leader in equality and has been held up as a model by other states who are rapidly moving to join New Hampshire in guaranteeing all citizens access to one of the most basic and fundamental civil rights,” said Buckley. “Poll after poll has shown wide support for New Hampshire's marriage equality law, yet Bill O'Brien continues to buck public opinion as he tries to pass his extreme right-wing social agenda.”

The economy remains the Republican Party's top priority, said Wayne MacDonald, chairman of the Republican Party of New Hampshire.

"We are a large and diverse Party and there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue," he said. "The main issues, however, will be jobs, the economy and the failures of the Obama Administration. The Republican Party intends to focus on these issues primarily and we expect to do well as a result."

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