New Hampshire governor at center of state’s gay marriage debate

The California Supreme Court’s ruling this week which upheld Proposition 8’s premise that marriage should only be recognized for heterosexual couples has understandably grabbed major headlines. It is an issue that won’t disappear in the Golden State anytime soon, as same-sex marriage supporters gear up for a new ballot initiative, perhaps as soon as 2010. The primary battleground on the issue for the present, however, remains New England in general and New Hampshire in particular. Always in the national spotlight as the nation’s first Presidential primary location, the New Hampshire is now home to a winding road that may ultimately lead to it becoming the sixth U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage. The other five are Iowa, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Democratic governor John Lynch had been on the record as supporting civil unions for same-sex couples but opposed to gay marriage. He later agreed with the state legislature which viewed it as a civil rights issue and sent a bill to be signed. Lynch sent the bill back seeking extra protections written in for churches and religious groups which might refuse same-sex weddings. The amended bill was narrowly defeated in the House and has been sent to a conference committee for restructuring. The new compromise bill may be on Lynch’s desk as early as next week. A hearing is scheduled next Wednesday, June 3. The delay in passage has been helpful to illustrate the potential pitfalls same-sex marriage holds for people unrelated to a gay couple who oppose the marriage, said Bruce Hausknecht. “We wouldn’t support any same-sex marriage bill, period, but what (Lynch) has done is raise awareness of the connection between religious liberties,” said Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action. “The fix proposed falls woefully short of any serious protection of religious liberties.” Hausknecht cited in particular the New Mexico case of Elaine and Jonathan Hugenin. The conservative Christian couple owns Elane Photography in Albuquerque. Vanessa Willock contacted Elane asking it to photograph a commitment ceremony with her girlfriend. After the Hugenins declined, Willock filed a charge against the company with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The commission found the company guilty of discrimination and fined it $6,000. “When (Lynch) said he wanted to revisit the language that’s OK, but it barely scratches the surface,” Hausknecht said. “There are a whole host of small businesses that will be effected by this and punished if they don’t agree with what is happening.” The provisions being taken in the bill are adequate and worth a few days’ wait for Mo Baxley. Baxley is the executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, a leading state lobbying firm in favor of gay marriage. “Absolutely, we would stand up for individual liberties, including people’s religious liberties,” Baxley said. “It’s pretty clearly spelled out in the legislation. The intent is not to discriminate.” Baxley also defended Lynch on being characterized as a flip-flopper on supporting civil unions then later supporting gay marriage. “There has been a little confusion on what the governor did and didn’t say,” Baxley said. “He never spoke publicly about specific legislation. There’s a bit of a mischaracterization going on.” Having advocated for gay marriage in New Hampshire since 1985, Baxley isn’t perturbed about having to with a few more days for legal recognition. She also doesn’t see a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman as likely. “When we passed civil unions two years ago, some people labeled it as ‘outrageous’ and there was a lot of back and forth. Since it’s been enacted things have really been ho-hum. I suspect the same thing will happen here. “When you have a legislature with 400 representatives, I suspect there will be some effort over the next five years or so to pass a constitutional amendment. The idea has been introduced the last five years and it has been soundly defeated in both Republican and Democratic majority legislatures. The people of New Hampshire do not like to mess with the Constitution and they don’t see this as a Constitutional issue.” Kevin Smith, however, is banking on a much different take by New Hampshire voters moving forward. “As recently as April, the governor said marriage was reserved for a man and a woman,” said Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, a conservative New Hampshire think tank and advocacy group. “He caved in to pressure from his own party and had to couch it in a way that pleased both sides.” Cornerstone is hoping to flex its political muscle to back a challenger to Lynch and certain legislators when both he and the entire House and Senate are up for re-election in 2010. In the meantime, Smith argues along the same lines as Focus’ Hausknecht that the full range of implications from same-sex marriage aren’t being fully addressed. “When you change the definition of marriage to any two persons, you are making the distinction men and women are the same in every way,” Smith said. “That’s undeniably not true from a biological or social standpoint. “You’re also saying that you don’t need a mother and father as the ideal way to raise children. This goes against common sense and it goes against social science. The other side wants to say this is about discrimination, but there’s already discrimination built into marriage. You can’t marry your cousin, you can’t marry your cousin’s sister, you can have polygamy, and on and on. The whole issue runs hollow if you scratch below the surface.” Links: Focus on the Family: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/ Elane Photography: http://www.elanephotography.com/ Hugenin case: Gay Rights, Religious Liberties: A Three-Act Story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91486340 New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition: http://nhftm.org/ Cornerstone Policy Research: http://www.nhcornerstone.org/index.htm

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  1. FlexColby said:

    “The delay in passage has been helpful to illustrate the potential pitfalls same-sex marriage holds for people unrelated to a gay couple who oppose the marriage, said Bruce Hausknecht.” The only “potential pitfalls” that you eluded too was a photographer in New Mexico who is being sued for discrimination. The photographer doesn’t work for the state, or work for any church organization. Are you against gay marriage, or are you against gay couples? It seems like the latter, and when you attempt to mask what you’re really against, you’re not convincing anyone but yourselves. Does contemporary religion need a scapegoat for it’s survival? We’re not your bitch, and we don’t tolerate your control, and power, over our private lives!

    May 29, 2009
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  2. Steve277 said:

    The first sentence of this article is factually incorrect and should be corrected. It reads in part “The California Supreme Court’s ruling this week which upheld Proposition 8’s premise that marriage should only be recognized for heterosexual couples…” The ruling DID NOT uphold any such premise. The court ruled that Prop 8 was a legal amendment and not a revision. This was the issue at the basis of the lawsuit. This decision does not affect the court’s May 2008 decision which found the constitutional right to marriage for gays and lesbians. You should publish a correction to this article.

    June 9, 2009
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