There are some 1800 legally married same-sex couples that call New Hampshire home. Sixty-two percent of New Hampshire residents say they are happy with the 2009 law that gave these families equality. So when the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) attacked from outside the state, with their deep pockets and their take-no-prisoner tactics, national pro-marriage equality groups the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry met fire with fire. They helped organized the citizens of New Hampshire into a potent political force to protect those 1800 families, and the ability of all New Hampshire citizens to “live free”. With the repeal battle about to be waged in the New Hampshire legislature this month, that peaceable but determined army; “Standing Up for New Hampshire Families” is On Our Radar.
January was certainly an active month in the struggle for marriage equality. It looks like Washington State will soon legalize same-sex marriage. (Go Washington!) Activists in Maine turned in enough signatures to force a second vote this November on reinstating marriage equality there. (Go Maine!) Governor Chris Christie set off a heated discussion on allowing the majority to determine the status of the minority when he said he wants New Jersey to vote on the issue. And the debate going on in Maryland is popcorn worthy. With all the fireworks happening on offense, you may have missed the little state up north that is playing tough “D”.
Both the New Hampshire House and Senate have Republican majorities. The Governor, John Lynch, is a Democrat, and has pledged a veto of any attempt to repeal same-sex marriage, but on a purely party line vote, New Hampshire has veto proof Republican majorities in both houses with votes to spare. It is a circumstance ripe for an attempt to overturn same-sex marriage in the Granite State, but the elected New Hampshire Republicans showed little appetite to relitiagte the issue. When House Majority Leader Bettencourt announced the Republican legislative priorities for the 2011 session, repealing marriage equality was not among them.
But the make up of the government and the chance it affords religious conservatives to strip away the marriage rights in New Hampshire did not go unnoticed by NOM. When the legislature showed no inclination to act, they popped like a weasel, blanketing Bettencourt’s district with mailers accusing him of “standing with Governor Lynch” and “(betraying) traditional family values”. Eventually NOM worked their will, and Rep David Bates (R-Windham) introduced a bill to repeal same-sex marriage, even though, as Former Republican House Speaker Gene Chandler commented, most of the lawmakers “don’t want to be dragged into it.”
If NOM was hoping the numbers told the tale, they have had a mean comeuppance in the face of local resistance. An organization formed specifically to take on the issue, Standing up for NH Families, initiated a steady, unrelenting, politically savvy campaign to oppose repeal. They began to assemble a coalition of the very people Republican lawmakers depend on for support come election time: businesspeople to fund their campaigns and the clergy to disseminate their message. NOM may have been expecting colorful signs and drum circles. What they got was a drumbeat of press releases announcing each new notable as they joined the group, keeping fear alive in the hearts of the legislature.
NOM squealed “Foul”, ironically complaining the movement wasn’t “grass roots” enough for their taste. I suspect lawmakers are using a different “F” word to describe their situation. And as the vote approaches, several Republicans, like Tea Party freshmen Rep Andrew Manuse and Sen Jim Forsythe, have floated an idea for a way out; getting government completely out of the marriage business by offering only state sanctioned civil unions and leaving “marriage” up to religious organizations.
Meanwhile Standing Up for NH Families is keeping up the pressure, with an organized letter writing campaign and volunteer phone banking. They appear to be making some headway. Former House Speaker Gene Chandler recently remarked that announcing he didn’t know how he was going to vote would put him at risk of getting 500 phone calls
“Don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no telling who that it’s namimg” warned Bob Dylan. And no one knows how this will end. We are all hoping New Hampshire does not become to first legislature to take away a hard-earned freedom well received and popular in the state. We’re also hoping that if the strategy of aligning business and religious leaders to support marriage equality is successful, it can be reproduced elsewhere. So eyes North. The battle for freedom is raging in New Hampshire, and a vote is imminent. Standing up for NH Families is on the front lines, and also, On Our Radar.