Marriage Equality Debate Continues in N.H.
Marriage equality was not an issue about which Claremont resident Craig Stowell heard much when he voted in the Nov. 2010 election. A Republican with a gay brother, Stowell decided to take a stand after GOP lawmakers began to discuss repealing the state law that allowed same-sex couples to marry.
"It was one of those things where I felt like I had a responsibility to work against this effort because I helped put these people in office," he said.
Stowell and his wife Berta are among the four Republicans and Democrats who appear in ad that began to air on WMUR late last month that urges state lawmakers to oppose state Rep. David Bates (R-Windham)'s bill that would repeal New Hampshire's marriage equality law.
Lawmakers are expected to debate the measure later this month. Governor John Lynch, who signed the marriage equality bill into law in June 2009, has pledged to veto the measure. Bates' measure will likely pass in the state Legislature, but it remains far less certain whether there are enough votes to override Lynch's promised veto.
"New Hampshire is an interesting place in that we have a very independent mindset and to see a few people be able to come this close to controlling the fate of so many; it's just not right," said Stowell.
New Hampshire's marriage equality debate coincides with the first-in-the-nation presidential primary that will take place on Jan. 10, and some candidates have sought to stake out positions in support of the repeal measure.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry applauded Bates and other pro-repeal lawmakers in a speech he gave at the Cornerstone Action's annual banquet in Manchester in late October. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a gay Army veteran, as he sat next to his husband in a Manchester restaurant last month, that he also supports the bill.
College students who attended a forum at New England College in Henniker on Jan. 5 pressed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum on his opposition to marriage for same-sex couples. A volunteer for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told EDGE in his downtown Manchester campaign office last week that Republican presidential candidates should stay out of the debate over the state's marriage equality law.
Polls continue to indicate the majority of New Hampshire voters oppose efforts to repeal the law.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll in early October found that 62 percent of respondents oppose Bates' bill, while 81 percent of respondents said marriage equality in the Granite State has not impacted their life. Forty-four percent of New Hampshire voters said they are actually more likely to vote against a candidate who backs the bill.
"Lawmakers are wasting their time and taxpayers' money," said Jotham Otterson of Nashua, referring to the UNH Survey Center poll.
Jen Gabler Schwab of Loudon opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples, but she framed the debate in libertarian terms.
"Government should not be about legislating one way or another on social issues, but about creating an environment where freedom of choice is protected," she said. "I don't support gay marriage, but it shouldn't be legislated-one way or the other. The government should pare down its self-proclaimed responsibilities and get back to administrative duties and protecting liberties.
Stowell is doubtful that the marriage equality repeal bill will play any significant role in the primary. The issue, however, remains deeply personal for him and his family.
"I find it very offensive when I hear people talking about protecting certain types of families and not all families," said Stowell. "To me, being a Republican means you're going to protect the freedom of every family, not just the family that you think fits your mold."