This month of June 2019 has special significance to me, and to New Hampshire, in the continuing cause of recognizing and appreciating diversity in our great state. Because it is the 20th anniversary of the signing of legislation recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the 10th anniversary of the signing of legislation enacting gay marriage.
In 1999, we won the race to be last by joining the rest of the nation in adopting MLK Day. In 2009, we became just the 5th state nationwide at that time to adopt marriage equality, but the very first to do so legislatively — by action in the “people’s house,” the N.H. Legislature. Up until then, other states had been directed into recognizing marriage equality by court action — here, we did it after open and well-attended public hearings and a vote of the representatives of our citizens.
On both issues, we should be very proud. And I saw it all up-close-and-personal, and observed the behind-the-scenes politics — the good, and the not so. I had sponsored the first MLK Day bill when I was a State Senator in 1979. It was defeated after bitter attacks from the state’s largest newspaper at the time, and others, accusing Dr. King as being a communist and anti-American. The bill earned only 8 votes in the 24-member State Senate, and supporters were criticized heavily.
In 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation, that he had initially opposed, making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday, other states joined in. It took a bit longer for New Hampshire to follow, but finally in 1999 Gov. Jeanne Shaheen signed legislation in front of the State House on a beautiful sunny day.
In 2009, the battle for marriage equality was achieved as Gov. John Lynch put his signature on legislation that allowed our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, co-workers and brothers and sisters to be married. Since then, thousands of marriages have been celebrated in our state. As sponsor of that bill, I stood behind Gov. Lynch as he signed it and saw the smiling faces of two hundred cheering people crowded into the small Governor’s Council Chamber at the State House.
Thanks go to Governors Shaheen and Lynch and many people statewide who had the courage and vision to march forward in bringing our state toward greater acceptance of diversity. We should celebrate how far we have come as now we host immigrants from other nations who come to our cities and towns with hopes of fulfilling their own personal dreams of acceptance and freedom, and as our transgender neighbors find greater appreciation among us for being who they are.
We can be proud of our revolutionary American spirit that has been instilled in us as one of our nation’s founding states over 200 years ago. Unfortunately, in some parts of our nation, especially in some southern states, we have seen a regression — a step back. As Presidential candidates of both major political parties, and the more minor ones too, visit us during the next several months, we should be sure they see our advocacy of diversity. In our democracy our rights are only really guaranteed until the next election.
What we need to keep in mind is that progress toward greater diversity of our population and acceptance of our differences does not demean nor take away from the rights of the rest of our citizens. It adds to it. Wouldn’t our lives be so boring if we were all alike? In America, and in New Hampshire, the dreams of equality live on in those important final words of our Pledge of Allegiance: “...with liberty and justice for all.”
In my view, there is nothing more important on this planet — nothing at all — than the way we treat one another. If we treated each other as friends and equals, we would end all wars, we would abolish poverty, hunger, and famine and drought. We would solve our environmental dilemmas because we would come together for the common good, putting aside greed and selfishness. Perhaps we will never actually achieve such a utopia, but we can sure try. That is a cause and a dream worthy of our efforts.