Gay marriage repeal a top issue in New Hampshire
Repealing New Hampshire's gay marriage law, legalizing casinos and changing the constitution to bar an income tax are among the hottest topics facing the Legislature heading into 2012, but lawmakers might not vote on these issues until after the Jan. 10 presidential primary.
House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt says the House most likely won't cast its votes until Jan. 11 or Jan 18. Bettencourt says the presidential candidates should have the spotlight until after the primary.
"The presidential candidates have a hard enough time getting their message out. This is the time for them to shine. We want them to get all the attention possible,'' said Bettencourt, of Salem.
When the Legislature convenes Jan. 4, it will instead take up a handful of vetoed bills before taking up legislation held over the summer and fall.
Both sides of the gay marriage debate expect the Republican-controlled House to pass the bill that would replace the law legalizing same-sex marriage with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives. The measure would allow anyone to refuse to recognize civil unions.
The Republican-controlled Senate also is expected to support repealing gay marriage, but Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said he can't predict if there will be the votes needed to override a veto.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch promises to veto the bill if it reaches him.
Since the same-sex marriage law took effect last year, more than 1,800 gay couples have gotten married in New Hampshire, the state Division of Vital Records shows.
Though advocates of the repeal bill say those marriages would remain legal under the measure, critics aren't so sure. They argue the bill is so flawed that existing marriages may not be recognized by the courts.
"Civil unions has to be in the bill if we're going to pass something and marriages that occurred while legal have to be grandfathered,'' Bradley said. "My understanding is the bill doesn't do either of those things. For me, that is a problem, personally.''
The House put off voting on the bill last session to keep the focus on the state budget. Republicans campaigned on promises they would pass legislation resulting in more jobs and GOP leaders did not want other issues to be a distraction.
But despite efforts to tamp down the debate, Republican presidential candidates were put on the spot to give their positions on gay marriage, not just the economy.
And a bipartisan group supporting the gay marriage law is soon launching a television ad defending it and urging lawmakers not to vote to repeal it. The 30-second ad shows people saying New Hampshire believes in freedom for everyone.