NOM, GOP lawmakers threaten marriage equality in N.H.

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 17, 2010

A Republican super-majority in the New Hampshire Legislature could jeopardize marriage equality in the Granite State.

As a result of the Nov. 2 elections, Republicans will hold 297 of 400 seats in the House of Representatives and 19 out of 24 slots in the state Senate. The Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a marriage equality bill in 2009. Governor John Lynch signed it into law despite personal misgivings. And more than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples have wed since the law went into effect in January.

The state's Republican legislative candidates had campaigned on a platform of addressing the budget deficit and creating jobs. They downplayed their social agenda.

Nevertheless, they will mount a full-bore attack to repeal the marriage equality law, according to a political observer and an openly gay Democratic lawmaker EDGE interviewed.

"The scale of the victory is historic," said Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "Certainly over the last decade we've had three straight midterm elections in the state where either one party or the other rolled up the score. This was an unusually severe movement. Democrats were decimated. I mean, pick your natural disaster."

Scala believes there's a possibility legislators will pass a bill repealing marriage equality. "Republicans seem to be ready to take up fiscal matters first, but at some point I think social conservatives will want a go at repeal," he said.

Asked if the Tea Party will influence legislation, Scala said it's unclear.

"It depends on which Tea Party," he explained. "The one with the fiscally conservative message might. It remains to be seen about how strong the social conservatives are. They will be more important than in the Legislature under the Democrats, but will they be strong enough to overcome the governor's veto?"

Legislators need a two-thirds majority-or 267 votes-to override a veto. "You've got 300 Republicans in the Legislature," noted Scala. "Some of them are going to be more moderate. It's not like all 300 of them were elected to repeal gay marriages."

He added Senate Republicans "could be a bit more moderate", but the National Organization for Marriage is expected to give a big boost to those seeking to repeal the law.

NOM financially backed successful efforts to repeal marriage equality in Maine and California. And Iowa voters earlier this month recalled three state Supreme Court justices who were among those who issued a unanimous ruling that legalized marriage for gays and lesbians in the Hawkeye State.

Back in New Hampshire, NOM poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into negative advertising against Lynch. He won reelection anyway.

"In New Hampshire, we flipped the state Legislature," boasted NOM President Brian Brown in a blog post. "And not only flipped it, but it now looks like we have veto-proof majorities in both legislative houses. We will now fight for a vote on a constitutional amendment and a repeal of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire. And we look forward to the Legislature overriding any veto that John Lynch might attempt."

State Rep. Robert Thompson (D-Manchester) believes victorious GOP candidates have already written two bills, one to repeal marriage equality and a second that would place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot.

A member of the Judiciary Committee, he worked with a handful of other openly gay legislators to persuade fellow Democrats to support marriage equality. Thompson, who was elected in 2008, was among the victims of the Republican sweep--he lost by just 120 votes.

While Lynch will have to deal with the Legislature's veto-proof super-majority and is expected to move more to the center if he decides to run again in two years, Thompson says he still supports marriage equality-and he said Lynch's daughter, who is a Dartmouth College student, told her father he needed to sign the marriage bill.

"She was a real advocate for the community, even though she's not gay," he reported. "In college she probably has gay friends and they're just like anybody else walking down the street, but they just happen to be the governor's daughter's friends."

Thompson pulled no punches when asked about NOM. "Its leaders need to look at their own families and decide which ones might be gay," he said. "They should ask themselves, 'Do you hate your children that much and feel they shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else? We should not allow one group that calls itself a non-profit control the elections in the country."

Thompson, who hopes to produce a live call-in show on gay and lesbian issues on a public access television channel in Manchester once he leaves office, stressed LGBT activists and allies need to fight tooth and nail to make sure lawmakers do not repeal marriage equality in the Granite State

He compared apathy among LGBT Granite Staters to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

"They didn't speak up," said Thompson. "We cannot stand by and say it won't happen. We need to stay involved. When the bill comes up in the Legislature, there should be a thousand people there. They need to do everything they can to hold the Republicans accountable for every single thing they do."

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].