The New Hampshire House voted yesterday to keep gay marriage legal, soundly defeating an attempt to make the state the first to legislatively repeal same-sex marriage.
The Republican-controlled House voted 202-133 to reject a repeal of the 2009 law allowing gay couples to marry here. The House then voted 211-116 to officially kill House Bill 437, which was first introduced over a year ago and became the subject of intense lobbying and debate.
"These folks are people just like you are," said Rep. Mike Ball, the chairman of the Manchester Republican Committee who compared the anti-gay marriage effort to segregation he witnessed growing up in the South. "They just want the same things you do. This bill needs to be put down."
The 202 votes against the bill included 109 Republicans who broke with the state party platform, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Republican opponents of repeal said their vote was about affirming the principles of small government and allowing all to seek happiness. Rep. Keith Murphy, a Bedford Republican, said the party platform "promises to respect your rights to live as you see fit."
"At its heart, it protects the right to be yourself," Murphy said. "How can anyone claim to support limited government and then with a straight face tell a grown adult they cannot marry another person?"
Murphy said he has a relative who is gay and is starting to talk about marriage with his partner of two years.
"He's happy. No one is being hurt. His choices are his own to make," Murphy said.
The repeal bill was spearheaded by Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican, and supported by 11 Republican co-sponsors. Bates argued his bill was not about discrimination or bigotry.
"Marriage is not just any two people who love one another and want to spend their lives together," Bates said. "I don't suspect there's anybody here who would suggest that it would be appropriate for me to marry my father, for me to marry my brother, for me to marry my children."
An amendment by Bates last week sought to pick up more floor votes by including a non-binding ballot question asking voters in November if they support defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Bates framed the ballot question as an assurance the repeal would only go forward with the consent of the voters, but other Republicans raised concerns yesterday about its inclusion in the bill, even attempting to strike it from the rest of the text.
"This is an issue that is confusing, sets one section of the House against the other. And it will do the same thing, if it passed, out in our communities," said longtime Republican Rep. David Welch of Kingston.
Once Bates's amendment failed on a 188-162 vote, the underlying legislation was doomed. Bates had sought to widen support for his amendment by including a civil union provision for gay couples that he said was the same one supported by Democrats prior to the passage of same-sex marriage. The original bill had no civil union protection. A motion to table it was proposed, but Bates disagreed.
"The time has come to make a decision," he said. Bates's bill would have continued to recognize the marriages of nearly 2,000 same-sex couples who have wed since the law took effect in January 2010, but some argued that would have treated future couples who were denied marriage rights as second-class citizens.
Gay marriage supporters had initially downplayed yesterday's vote in case it didn't go their way, focusing instead on the lack of a two-thirds majority in the House to override a likely veto from Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who signed the law three years ago making New Hampshire the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage.
Polls showed New Hampshire citizens opposed the repeal effort by a nearly two-to-one margin. Tyler Deaton, a lobbyist with pro-gay marriage group Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, said it was fitting House members also rejected the repeal by a margin of nearly two-to-one.
"They're speaking for the people, they're listening to their constituents, they're doing what's right for all families, they're doing what's right for liberty," Deaton said.