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April 22. 2014 11:22PM

Amendment barring discrimination on sexual orientation sent to study

CONCORD — A proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation was given a polite death by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The committee voted 16-4 to send Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 17 to interim study after many committee members noted the bill was opposed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities as well as religious organizations.

During a public hearing earlier this month, some testified that sexual orientation needs to be more clearly defined and more thoroughly studied before letting voters decide in the next general election.

But supporters argued the change is needed to prevent lawmakers from backtracking on gay rights’ progress in New Hampshire.

Without the constitutional amendment, said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover, at the public hearing, lawmakers could roll back hard–earned protections for homosexuals.

The state has laws forbidding private business from discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, he said, and the constitutional amendment would prohibit the state from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Committee member Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, said the state constitution is the highest law in the land and can’t be changed by lawmakers, only by a two-thirds vote of the public.

Any change in the constitution needs to be precise, Rowe noted, and questioned if the term sexual orientation was clearly understood.

“Even if the citizens pass it by two-thirds,” Rowe said, “it will keep lawyers and judges in business for decades.”

Committee vice chair Rep. Janet Wall, D-Madbury, said she does not like to change the state constitution.

The public is not that familiar with the issue, she said. “The public is not aware, they’re not ready to vote on this,” Wall said. “There should not be a laundry list in the constitution.”

The state constitution now reads “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.” The proposed amendment would add “sexual orientation” to the list.

CACR 17 passed the Senate last month on a 23-0 vote, but ran into opposition before the House.

A three-fifths majority is required to advance a proposed constitutional change by both the Senate and the House.

If a proposed constitutional amendment passes the three-fifths threshold, it appears on the general election ballot in November, where it will require a two-thirds majority of the voters to be added to the constitution.

grayno@unionleader.com


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