N.H. gov. now in 'gay marriage' spotlight

by Michael Foust, posted Friday, May 01, 2009 (10 years ago)

CONCORD, N.H. (BP)--The only thing standing in the way of New Hampshire becoming the fifth state to legalize "gay marriage" appears to be Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who is facing intense pressure from both sides of the debate urging their constituents to flood his office with phone calls.

Lynch is viewed by social conservatives in the New England states as perhaps the most moderate Democratic governor in the region. A bill to legalize "gay marriage" has passed the state House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, but because there were minor differences in each chamber's bill, the two sides must work out the differences. Neither chamber had the votes for an override. The bill is H.B. 436.

Lynch repeatedly has stated that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman but he has yet to pledge to veto the bill.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Policy Research -- which is lobbying for a veto -- said if there's a Democratic governor in the Northeast who would veto such a bill, it's Lynch. In 2007, when the state legislature was debating a same-sex civil unions bill, Lynch waited several weeks before taking a public position, even though the proposal had wide Democratic support. He eventually signed it.

Smith said the importance of calling Lynch can't be overstated. (Lynch's office number is 603-271-2121.)

"That won't be the deciding factor but that will be a very big factor," he told Baptist Press. "We know he's already heard from a lot of people asking him to veto it."

The conservative National Organization for Marriage sent out an "urgent marriage alert" e-mail April 30, saying that "unfortunately, sometimes it comes down to which side makes the most noise." It urged bill opponents to "flood" Lynch's office with calls and e-mails, and even urged out-of-state residents to join the effort.

Likewise, on the other side of the fence, the popular liberal website BlueHampshire.com is urging supporters of the bill to ask Lynch to sign the bill. "We ... need to refocus our energies toward Governor Lynch," a blogger on the website wrote.

The state's churches aren't being silent. Sam Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press he is encouraging citizens to call Lynch, "thank him for his previously stated position" and "ask him not to allow this radical bill to become law."

Lynch is facing enormous pressure from within his own party. The state's Democratic Party chairman, Ray Buckley, is an open homosexual who reportedly pressured senators into supporting the bill. It passed in the Senate, 13-11, after Democratic Sen. Deborah Reynolds, who had opposed it in committee, decided to support it. Observers on both sides thought the bill might die in the Senate and keep Lynch from having to take action.

Just over a week ago -- and after the bill had passed the House on a 186-179 vote -- Lynch told The Union-Leader, "I think the word marriage is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman, and I think the real issues really are rights and protections for gay and lesbian couples."

Then, after the bill passed the Senate Wednesday, he released a statement saying: "I recognize that the issue of same-sex marriage is intensely passionate and personal, and raises strong emotions on all sides. I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples. This was accomplished through the passage of the civil unions law two years ago. To achieve further real progress, the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions."

Supporters of the bill took comfort in the fact that Lynch's statement didn't pledge a veto. Opponents took heart in that the statement may have indicated Lynch felt the state's civil unions law was adequate -- a position he has stated in the past.

Smith of Cornerstone Policy Research believes there is a "power struggle" going on among state Democrats between Buckley and Lynch as to who controls the party. Smith said he fears Lynch may let the bill become law without signing it.

"He has already said on numerous occasions he opposes same-sex marriage," Smith said. "What we've been telling the press is that now it's time for him to put his money where his mouth is. Was he misleading the voters of the state when he said that or was he serious and is he going to veto it? He said that the word marriage should be reserved for traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That means you would veto it, and not just let it become law."

The push to pass the bill in New Hampshire is part of a wider strategy by the Massachusetts-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders to legalize "gay marriage" in all six New England states by 2012. Maine's Senate passed a "gay marriage" bill Thursday, 20-15, sending it to the state House. Maine Democratic Gov. John Baldacci has said in the past he opposes "gay marriage" but recently said "it's an issue that I struggle with trying to find the best path forward." The good news for conservatives in Maine is that the state has a "people's veto" law allowing citizens to gather signatures to try and overturn a law.

It is no coincidence that the bills are advancing in an area that is the least religious in America. A January analysis by Gallup showed that Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine were the three least religious states in America, in that order. Gallup asked those polled: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, said the "current environment in New England" gives evangelicals "an important opportunity to share with others about Jesus."

"We must not allow ourselves to be caricatured as backward and ignorant homophobes," Taylor told BP. "Rather, we must clearly and lovingly articulate the Gospel of Christ. We must speak the truth that God loves all men, including homosexuals, and the stigma of guilt they feel can be removed only through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. We must show that what homosexuals are seeking, though they don't realize it, is a relationship with Jesus Christ."

Opponents of the bill fear the bill, if signed into law, will impact what is taught in public schools, such as has happened in Massachusetts, where "gay marriage" also is legal.

"Absolutely it's a concern," Smith said, "because we've seen it in Massachusetts, where if same-sex marriage gets to be equated with traditional marriage, then of course it will be indoctrinated in the public schools because they'll have to teach schoolchildren that, well, 'Some kids have two mommies or two daddies and that's completely normal.' It's an issue that we raised in the debate."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Gov. Lynch's office number is 603-271-2121. He can be e-mailed at http://www.governor.nh.gov/contactus.htm. To read how "gay marriage" impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here

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