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April 30. 2014 9:12PM

House, 234-95, sends sexual orientation amendment to study

CONCORD — The House voted to send a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation to interim study on a 234-95 vote.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 17 sailed through the Senate on a 23-0 vote, but ran into opposition from unexpected places at a public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee that voted 16-4 last week to send the bill to interim study, a polite death in the second year of a term.

Several committee members noted the bill was opposed by both the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and religious organizations.

During a public hearing earlier this month, some testified 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 from the progress New Hampshire has made as it has led the nation in equality for gays.

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 the gay community.

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.

Former House Speaker Rep. William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said the proposed amendment should not be sent to study, but should be killed.

“This is just one more attempt to slice and dice our society into groups,” O’Brien said. “It’s cynical and harmful to society and elevates group rights over individual rights.”

Those supporting interim study have said any language changing the constitution needs to be precise, and they question if the term sexual orientation is clearly understood.

The constitution currently 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.

“The reaches of such an amendment are far beyond those proposed by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Pierce,” said Bryan McCormack of Cornerstone Action. “We must study hard and diligently to understand how such an amendment will affect the existing protections of religious liberty.”

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.

The House did approve Senate Bill 394, which clarifies that New Hampshire would recognize gay marriages that happened prior to the state passing its own law.

The bill, which passed on a 217-119 vote, also allows couples living in states without legal gay marriage to have the ceremony performed in New Hampshire and have their marriage recognized.

And the bill clarifies that couples who have entered civil unions in other states can be married in New Hampshire without first dissolving their civil unions.

The bill goes to the governor.

grayno@unionleader.com


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