CONCORD, N.H. (BP)–An attempt to make New Hampshire the sixth state to legalize “gay marriage” may have hit a snag last week, but supporters aren’t giving up and a legislative committee agreed Friday in a controversial meeting to send a compromise bill back to the House and Senate.
At issue was language in a bill, H.B. 73, that Democratic Gov. John Lynch said must pass if he is to sign a separate bill, H.B. 436, that would legalize “gay marriage.” Although H.B. 436 already passed both chambers, legislative leaders have yet to send it to Lynch’s desk.
Lynch says H.B. 73 — which passed the Senate but surprisingly failed in the House 188-186 May 20 — would provide protections to religious organizations and prevent them from being forced to participate in same-sex ceremonies. Social conservatives say the bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting those with religious objections, while some representatives who opposed the bill say it goes too far.
Conservatives are trying to defeat H.B. 73 so as to force Lynch to veto the “gay marriage” bill.
In a meeting Friday afternoon, a conference committee made up of members from both chambers agreed to minor changes in H.B. 73 that the committee hopes will pass both chambers and appease Lynch. But the bill passed the committee only after a Republican (Sen. Sheila Roberge) who opposes “gay marriage” was pulled from the committee and replaced by a Democrat (Sen. Matthew Houde) who supports it. Roberge was pulled from the committee by Democratic leaders after she voted against the compromise; a unanimous vote is necessary to send the bill back to the full House and Senate. With Houde on the committee, the vote went from 6-1 to 7-0.
Democrats control both chambers. Roberge had offered three amendments to the bill that failed to get seconded, including: 1) an amendment to protect private businesses who oppose “gay marriage” and 2) an amendment that would have placed a non-binding referendum about “gay marriage” on the ballot.
Conservatives now will pressure House members to defeat the bill when it comes up again for a vote.
Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Policy Research, told Baptist Press the committee changes simply were “fluff” in order to give Democratic House leaders another chance to pass it. He believes House leaders will find the votes to pass it in the full chamber, much like they did in March when the “gay marriage” bill actually failed by one vote when it was first considered, only to pass by seven votes minutes later when Democratic leaders brought it back up.
“They did nothing to change the governor’s amendment. I think it will pass the House, but I thought it would pass the last time. You never know what’s going to happen in there. It’s all about turnout,” he said of the 400-member chamber. “… They only need one to switch.”
If one vote switches and the vote is tied, then House Speaker Terie Norelli — who supports “gay marriage” — would break the tie and presumably vote for it.
Cornerstone and the National Organization for Marriage have been running a television ad reminding citizens that Lynch said he would veto the “gay marriage” bill if the religious exemptions bill as he outlined isn’t passed. It also reminds citizens that Lynch — up until just two weeks ago — said he didn’t support “gay marriage.” It asks viewers to call Lynch and ask him to veto the bill.
“The legislature did not pass these provisions,” the ad says. “Now the only question is whether … Gov. Lynch will finally keep his word.”
Smith and other conservatives say Lynch’s proposal falls far short of truly protecting religious freedoms. As written prior to Friday’s conference, the bill stated that “a religious organization, association, or society” or any individual who is “managed, directed, or supervised” by a religious organization “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual” if such a request “is related to the solemnization of a marriage.”
Although that would, for instance, protect a church-owned counseling service and a church-owned retreat center, it would not protect a privately owned wedding photography business, catering service or bed and breakfast, or even a fertility doctor who has moral objections to treating a “married” same-sex couple. It also does nothing to prevent “gay marriage” from being taught in public schools, as has happened in Massachusetts, where “gay marriage” also is legal.
In one famous case of religious discrimination, the New Mexico human rights commission fined a husband-wife-owned photography business $6,600 for refusing to take pictures of a lesbian commitment ceremony.
“The New Hampshire governor is right to recognize the threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex marriage, but he underestimates the threat by a long shot,” Austin R. Nimocks, an attorney with the legal organization Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. “The protections he proposes do not cover business owners and individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage, and these are exactly the kind of cases that the Alliance Defense Fund is having to defend.”
It’s anyone guess as to how another House vote will turn out. Smith said the bill failed last week because of a number of factors.
“It was a combination of things,” he said. “The majority of people who voted against it just don’t want gay marriage to begin with. You had some Republicans who are in favor of gay marriage but voted against it because they felt the amendment actually went too far in protecting religious organizations and that it was writing discrimination into the law. And then you had Democrats who were mad at the governor for not just signing the [gay marriage] bill the way it was.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read how “gay marriage” impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.
For more information about the New Hampshire bill, visit www.cpraction.org.