CONCORD, N.H. (BP)–The New Hampshire legislature is in a standoff with Gov. John Lynch over a bill that would legalize “gay marriage” after the House voted 188-186 May 20 against amending the bill to include language protecting religious groups.
Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch, said in a statement after the vote that the governor was firm in wanting religious protections if “gay marriage” is to be legalized in the state.
“The governor articulated strong principles that needed to be included in order for him to sign the bill,” Manning said. “While he will continue to talk with lawmakers, those principles must be maintained in any final version of the bill.”
Sam Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press the House action shows what’s really at stake in New Hampshire.
“The fact that the New Hampshire House of Representatives refused to accept Gov. Lynch’s very reasonable amendment demonstrates the radical agenda of those who are trying to force this bill into law,” Taylor said. “While we are encouraged that the bill has been temporarily stalled, this is not likely to be the end of the matter.”
After months of debate, the bill passed the House and Senate before making it to the governor’s desk. As recently as April, Lynch said he believed marriage should be “reserved” for one man and one woman, but he released a statement May 14 saying he would sign the bill if protections for religious organizations were strengthened.
Taylor said it appears that Lynch ultimately will renege on his previous statements opposing “gay marriage” and will sign a compromise bill.
“We are, however, thankful for the wording of Gov. Lynch’s amendment which protects religious groups that believe homosexual behavior is sin from being forced to provide wedding ceremonies and other accommodations for gays,” Taylor said.
The Senate approved the changes Wednesday morning, but the House, dominated by Democrats, rejected the amendment in the afternoon. Now the bill will go to a joint legislative committee as the two houses attempt to negotiate a solution before the session ends in June.
“We are pleased that common sense prevailed in the House today by not concurring with the governor and Senate’s amendment,” Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research, said in a statement.
“We are hopeful that the legislature, having seen there is clearly a divide amongst themselves on this issue, will finally put this to bed by not concurring in the committee of conference and will instead get on with the issue the people care most about in this state: the economy.”
Smith said the latest move by the House gives Lynch another chance at keeping his word.
“The governor stated last week that he will veto the gay marriage legislation if it did not contain the language he asked for,” Smith said. “Today, the governor’s amendment was defeated, so we are hopeful he will stay true to his word this time by vetoing any other language that comes to his desk.”
Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said he hopes the legislature will not approve “gay marriage” even with the governor’s proposed language.
“The fact is that legalized gay marriage is a bad idea that has profound implications for society that go way beyond religious liberty concerns,” Brown said. “Gov. Lynch’s language does nothing to protect New Hampshire children from being taught in school that gay marriage is just the same as marriage. That is exactly what happened over the state line in Massachusetts. His language does nothing to stop schools from taking young children to celebrate a lesbian wedding, as happened in California.
“His language does nothing to protect photographers and other professionals from being fined because they refuse to participate in something they morally oppose, as happened in New Mexico,” Brown added. “Nor does it protect medical professionals who object to procedures like artificial insemination of a lesbian couple.”
A Dartmouth College poll released earlier in 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. A company called ccAdvertising in Virginia conducted the survey.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Virginia, said the standoff in New Hampshire should get the attention of the entire nation.
“This should be a wakeup call for people who cherish freedom,” Staver said. “The same-sex marriage agenda being advanced is on a collision course with the values and freedoms shared by most Americans. This is clear evidence that the end game is to force clergy and religious institutions to not just accept, but to celebrate and participate in same-sex marriages.”
Liberty Counsel, in a news release, noted that the push against the amendment in the House was led by an openly homosexual state representative, Steve Vaillancourt from Manchester, who said the House should not be “bullied” by the governor into allowing protections for religious organizations.
“The good news is that the same-sex marriage bill did not pass. The bad news is that some legislators want to force clergy to perform same-sex marriages,” Staver said.
Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage, said the best solution would be to let the people of New Hampshire decide whether homosexuals should be permitted to “marry” in their state.
“The people of New Hampshire should have the opportunity to decide the future of marriage for themselves,” Brown said. “The legislature should let the people vote directly on a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“Thirty other states have allowed their voters to decide this issue,” Brown said. “Gov. Lynch and the legislature should not disenfranchise the citizens of New Hampshire. Let them decide this issue for themselves.”
New Hampshire would become the sixth state to legalize “gay marriage,” although in two of those states the laws have yet to take effect. Vermont’s law goes into effect in September and Maine’s law likely won’t go into effect until voters have a say. Just as significantly, if New Hampshire does change its laws, Rhode Island would be the lone state in New England not to redefine marriage.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.