By NORMA LOVE, Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The sponsor of a bill to repeal New Hampshire‘s gay marriage law proposed Tuesday to give voters a chance to weigh in through a nonbinding ballot question on whether the state should restore a 2007 civil unions law.
State Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, said his proposal would repeal gay marriage effective March 31, 2013, and replace it with civil unions. He said if voters decide in November they want to keep civil unions for homosexuals, gay marriage would be repealed. He said if voters object to repealing gay marriage, lawmakers would have time to stop the repeal from taking effect.
The civil unions law enacted in 2007 was considered by gay marriage supporters to be marriage in all but name. Bates’ proposal is intended to return to that law by giving same-sex couples the contractual protections of marriage and requiring them to go through divorce proceedings like heterosexual couples.
“From my perspective, this is not intended to be a substitute or mimic of marriage,” he said.
Bates said he will offer the proposal as an amendment to his bill when it comes to the House floor for a vote next week, probably Wednesday.
Bates said his amendment will satisfy some critics who said his original proposal failed to ensure the almost 1,900 existing same-sex marriages would not be affected if the law that took effect in 2010 is repealed. The amendment specifically states their marriages will not be affected. Bates said it would replace the current “illegitimate definition” of marriage with one defining it as between one man and one woman.
Tyler Deaton of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, which opposes repeal, called the referendum a distraction from the real issue that lawmakers would be voting to discriminate against same-sex couples.
“The very premise of this bill is to take away rights,” said Deaton.
The group has been airing the ad below to rally support against the proposed repeal.
It is Bates’ second amendment to the bill, which is being heavily lobbied by both sides.
Both sides also are promising to raise money to support lawmakers sympathetic to their cause in the fall elections. The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to spend $250,000 to help lawmakers who support repealing the law. On the other side, the New Hampshire Republicans of Freedom and Equality PAC is raising money to back Republicans who vote to retain the law.
New Hampshire polls show a majority oppose repealing the law while Bates disputes their accuracy.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has repeatedly said he will veto attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the law, which he signed in 2009; he also signed the earlier civil unions law. Spokesman Colin Manning reiterated Tuesday the veto promise applies to Bates’ latest proposal.
Repeal opponents, including some Republican lawmakers, believe the vote to pass the bill in the House will be close. They believe if it passes and is vetoed, they have the votes to sustain a veto. It takes a two-thirds vote of those present and voting to override a veto.
On the other hand, Bates said he believes the law will be repealed, especially with his newest proposal.
“You have to deal with the realities of trying to reach consensus,” he told The Associated Press about the changes he made.
New Hampshire’s House Judiciary Committee voted last fall to recommend replacing the law legalizing same-sex marriage with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives. The committee recommended killing a bill that simply repealed the law.
Bates’ first amendment to the repeal bill would have allowed civil unions for any two adults and would have let anyone refuse to recognize the unions. It also would have allowed anyone to discriminate against such couples in employment, housing and public accommodations based on religious or moral beliefs. Bates dropped those provisions from his latest amendment.
Opponents said Bates’ first amendment had conflicting provisions that appear to bar the courts from recognizing same-sex relationships as valid, while declaring gay marriages in effect before the repeal took effect to remain valid.
Bates said that under the latest change to the bill, he sought to clarify the existing same-sex marriages would remain valid, and said out-of-state marriages also would be recognized.
Others questioned whether allowing civil unions between relatives would amount to condoning incest. Supporters said it did not do so.
Although Bates’s proposed revision to the bill would restrict the unions to same-sex couples, he said he still believes all adults should be allowed to enter into civil unions.
Though rare, New Hampshire has put nonbinding questions on the ballot in the past, Bates said.
In 2010, Bates was behind a push to get towns to consider a similar nonbinding question at town meetings. The results were mixed, with Bates arguing more towns approved it than disapproved it, but many towns tabled the resolution making the final outcome hard to judge.
Bates told the AP he accepts there is no will to repeal gay marriage without replacing it with civil unions, but he still wants to hear what voters have to say.
“I don’t think what we have in place now is what the people want,” he said.
But Bates added that he is “ready to accept the will of the people” should voters vote to retain gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but the governor vetoed it. An override vote could come as late as January 2014.
Since 1998, 31 states have had ballot measures related to same-sex marriage and opponents have prevailed in every state.
Last month, a federal appeals court declared California’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The ruling could mean the bitterly contested, voter-approved law will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.