CONCORD, N.H. (BP)–New Hampshire may have legalized “gay marriage” but if opponents of the new law get their way, a new governor and a new legislature will hit the “undo” button and reverse course on the issue in two years.
Flipping the governor’s office and the legislature from Democrat to Republican in 2010 is a bold goal and it offers no guarantees, but it’s the only option social conservatives in New Hampshire have now that the state has become the sixth nationwide to redefine marriage to include homosexuals.
New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch signed the bill Wednesday after it passed the Democratic-led legislature.
Unlike other states, New Hampshire law does not allow citizens to gather signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot banning “gay marriage.” Any recourse must start with the legislature, which traditionally had been controlled by Republicans but which has been held by Democrats for two terms.
“I think we have a good chance of that happening, because I think people are so disgusted with what this legislature has done this year,” Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Policy Research, told Baptist Press. “The goal after that would be to repeal the law.”
Smith isn’t proposing the law be repealed by a constitutional amendment but by a state statute — a bill — in the same manner the law came into being. Unlike Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa — states that had court rulings legalizing “gay marriage” — New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine redefined marriage simply by passing a law, which means it presumably can be reversed by passing another law. Of those three latter states, New Hampshire is the most conservative and seems the most likely to change course at the legislative level.
It may not be as much of a long-shot as it seems. Democrats hold a 14-10 edge in the New Hampshire Senate and a 224-176 edge in the House but have held the legislature for less than three years. They took control in 2006, winning the House from Republicans for the first time since 1911 and controlling both chambers for the first time since 1874. Last year — in a great year for Democrats nationally — Republicans in the New Hampshire House actually picked up 14 seats.
Lynch, in his third term, would be up for re-election in 2010 should he seek a fourth term. Every Senate and House seat also will be on the ballot.
Since taking over the legislature, the Democrats have passed not only “gay marriage” but also same-sex civil unions, which were promoted at the time as a middle ground between the two camps. Neither issue received a vote when Republicans were in charge. The Democratic legislature also passed a medicinal marijuana bill that is in a conference committee to work out key differences.
Smith — a former Republican state representative — believes New Hampshire is still “a Republican state,” although outside observers note that it does tilt moderate on social issues.
A Dartmouth College poll from May showed 45 percent of registered voters opposing “gay marriage” and 41 percent supporting it. Cornerstone Policy Research also released a poll of 50,000 households showing that 64 percent agreed that “marriage between one man and one woman should be the only legal definition of marriage” in the state.
Despite possible statewide opposition, the legislature refused to put the issue of “gay marriage” on the ballot to allow voters to have their say with a non-binding referendum.
Smith rejects the popular notion that once “gay marriage” is legalized it’s nearly impossible to repeal. He points to what happened in California, where voters there passed a constitutional amendment to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing “gay marriage.” Working against conservatives in New Hampshire, though, will be the fact that “gay marriage” will have been legal for more than a year; it goes into effect Jan. 1. But they also have something in their favor: Unlike California, New Hampshire’s new law was passed by statute. Therefore, it doesn’t need a constitutional amendment to overturn it.
“I think the voters are so disenfranchised that they haven’t had their say on this issue that they want to have their say on it,” Smith said. “I think the horse can be put back in the barn, sure.”
Smith, of course, would prefer a constitutional amendment, but New Hampshire amendments require the approval by three-fifths of each legislative chamber and two-thirds of the voters.
Supporters of any proposed statute would face a couple of key questions: 1) What would happen to “gay marriages” already in existence and 2) Would the statute put the civil unions law back on the books?
If the “gay marriage” bill were to be rescinded by a simple statute, lawsuits no doubt would follow, as has happened in California.
Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty legal organization, believes the current “marriages” would have to grandfathered in if the law was rescinded by statute but that they should cease to be recognized if a constitutional amendment was passed. But he would support such a statute and believes it could survive legal scrutiny.
“It came in with a statute. It could go out with a statute,” he told BP.
Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, another religious liberty legal organization, said a statute would be more likely to be overturned in court if it did nix previous marriages. But he agreed that New Hampshire could, if it wanted, reverse course on the overall issue of “gay marriage” legalization.
“Assuming the government has the authority to redefine marriage, it also has the authority to restore it to its traditional definition,” he told BP.
Conservatives in New Hampshire’s neighbor to the east, Maine, are collecting signatures to try and overturn that state’s new “gay marriage” law, which has not yet gone into effect. Maine’s unique law is known as a “people’s veto.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For information about the Maine people’s veto effort, visit MaineMarriage.net. To read how “gay marriage” impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.