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Should Presidential Candidates Get Involved with N.H. Marriage Debate?

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Friday Dec 30, 2011

Will marriage equality play a role in the New Hampshire primary?

With a vote on a bill that would repeal the state's marriage equality law that could potentially coincide with the Jan. 10 presidential primary, this question remains all too real possibility. Will raising the issue with independent-minded New Hampshire voters prove an effective campaign strategy?

"My sense is that it would not serve a candidate's interests in New Hampshire to highlight that issue," said Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "It's just not something that most New Hampshire Republicans consider a key issue."

A UNH Survey Center poll conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2 found that 62 percent of New Hampshire voters oppose efforts to repeal the law, 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.

A coalition of groups that oppose the repeal measure unveiled a new ad earlier this month with three Republicans and one Democrat who urge state lawmakers to vote against it, but this opposition has not stopped several GOP presidential candidates from speaking out in support of the bill.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told a gay Army veteran as he sat next to his husband in a Manchester restaurant earlier this month that he supports efforts to repeal the state's marriage equality law. Texas Gov. Rick Perry applauded the bill's sponsor, state Rep. David Bates (R-Windham,) and other lawmakers who back the measure in a speech he gave at the Cornerstone Action's annual banquet in late October. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman described the federal Defense of Marriage Act as serving a "useful purpose" at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, but a volunteer for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told EDGE in the campaign's downtown Manchester offices on Monday, Dec. 26, that Republican presidential candidates should stay out of the debate over the state's marriage equality law.

"In fact, most New Hampshire Republicans with their party would spend less time and energy focusing on such issues," added Scala.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley had an overtly partisan response.

"Despite more Republican primary voters opposing the repeal of marriage equality than supporting it, marriage equality has not been an issue in the primary, namely because all of the candidates except Fred Karger support its repeal," he told EDGE, noting that he expects a major Republican presidential candidate will support marriage equality by the 2016 primary.

"It was a significant missed opportunity for one of the major candidates to break out of the pack by focusing on LGBT issues," said Buckley.

Are gay New Hampshire primary voters paying attention?

Peterborough resident Bill St. John was among the handful of patrons at the Breezeway, a gay bar in downtown Manchester, on a recent Tuesday night. A special education teacher, St. John said he would probably vote for Huntsman if he were a Republican.

"He seems... just very conservative, a good businessman again and somebody that can possibly-and I strongly say possibly-get this country back to where it belongs," he said. "There's no reason why this country should be in the debt we're in. We shouldn't be trillions of dollars in debt."

St. John applauded Romney as a "wonderful businessman" who left Bain Capital to run the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He was far less certain whether Romney would make a good president.

"He left his company to save the Olympics and he did a wonderful job," said St. John. "He can do a great job as the president, but I believe he is... for a lack of [a] better [word] a little too prejudice for my taste. Politicians can say anything and say they're going to do anything, but when you let us know who you are for so many years-you've been in the same religion since you've been a child, you're not going to change your spots too easily."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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