New Hampshire gov. says he'll sign 'gay marriage' bill if changes are made

by Michael Foust, posted Thursday, May 14, 2009 (10 years ago)

CONCORD, N.H. (BP)--Disappointing conservatives who say he is reneging from a previous statement to voters, New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch said Thursday he would sign a bill legalizing “gay marriage” if changes to it are made.

Lynch, who as recently as April said he believed marriage was “reserved” for one man and one woman, released a statement saying he wants to see the bill’s protections for religious organizations strengthened. Opponents, though, said that the governor's proposal falls far short and that even if he gets his way parental rights and religious freedoms still will be impaired, with “gay marriage” being taught as normative in public schools.

Lynch said he would veto the bill, H.B. 436 in its current form, although it has yet officially to make it to his desk and it appears legislators simply will hold off on sending it there until it is tweaked to incorporate Lynch’s proposals. It already has passed the state House and Senate. A Senate leader told the Union-Leader newspaper that the changes could be made as early as next week.

Two polls in the past week -- one by a non-partisan polling agency and one released by an opponent of the bill –- showed at least a plurality of opposition to “gay marriage” in the state.

“Bottom line: Governor Lynch has broken his trust with the New Hampshire public by stating he will sign this bill, and has given in to the radical special interests,” the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research said in an e-mail to constituents.

Ever since the bill passed the Senate May 6, supporters and opponents have flooded Lynch’s office with phone calls, something Lynch acknowledged in his statement. Cornerstone Policy teamed up with the National Organization for Marriage and ran TV ads showing Lynch’s past statements opposing “gay marriage” and urging him to stick to his word.

Opponents now will turn their attention back to the legislature and pressure senators and representatives to oppose the bill. It squeaked through both chambers. It passed the Senate in an initial vote 13-11 and the House 186-179, also on an initial vote. In fact, the bill actually lost by one vote in its very first test in the House, although it was revived minutes later when several representatives changed their positions.

"My personal views on the subject of marriage have been shaped by my own experience, tradition and upbringing,” Lynch said. “But as Governor of New Hampshire, I recognize that I have a responsibility to consider this issue through a broader lens.”

Lynch said he had met with legislative leaders and given them proposed bill language that he said would “provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions.”

“It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles,” he said.

Lynch’s proposed change would add language stating, in part, that “a religious organization, association, or society” or any individual “who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society” cannot be required to facilitate a “gay marriage” in any way.

Although that could protect, for instance, Christian bookstores and Christian schools, it falls far short of what really is needed, Cornerstone Policy said.

“This new language adds protections for religious organizations that are ALREADY covered under the First Amendment --- but still does NOTHING to protect independent business owners and persons of faith, who are Justices of the Peace, who will now be forced to provide their services for gay 'marriage' ceremonies or risk being fined up to $50,000 by the Human Rights Commission,” Cornerstone Policy said.

Lynch’s proposed changes also would not protect parental rights in public schools. New Hampshire’s neighbor to the south, Massachusetts –- which also recognizes “gay marriage” -- has witnessed such school-related conflicts. In one instance, a school system told the husband and wife of a second-grader in Lexington, Mass., that the parents had no right to object to the reading of a book (“King & King”) about “gay marriage” in the child’s class. The parents sued but lost in federal court.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which takes no position on “gay marriage,” applauded Lynch for taking the step toward protecting religious freedom but said the proposed additions won’t cover everything that is needed.

“Governor Lynch's conscience protections go significantly further than those set forth in states such as Vermont and Connecticut [two states where gay marriage is legal,” the Becket Fund said in a statement. “Lynch's proposal would in some instances also protect individuals as well as institutions, though it would not protect small business owners such as the [New Mexico] photographer who faces a fine for refusing, in accordance to her religious beliefs, to photograph a same sex union.”

Eric Rassbach, national litigation director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, "Giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages promises to unleash a host of legal and financial penalties on those who conscientiously object to it, unless states make the effort to enact robust legal protections.”

As recently as April 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."

A Dartmouth College poll released earlier this month showed 45 percent of registered voters opposing “gay marriage” and 41 percent supporting it. Cornerstone Policy Research also released a poll of 50,000 households showing that 64 percent agreed that "marriage between one man and one woman should be the only legal definition of marriage" in the state. A company called ccAdvertising out of Virginia conducted the survey.

The Union-Leader editorial board criticized Lynch, saying the governor had "handed unequivocal victory to proponents of same-sex marriage."

"[I]t opens the definition of marriage to perpetual revision henceforth," the editorial read. "Should the governor's proposal pass, marriage shall instantly transform from a bedrock of civilization to just another in our ever-expanding list of political battlefields. Its meaning is to be fought over, revised, changed, updated and expanded whenever the preferences of the majority shift direction. The specific ramifications for society are unpredictable, but the general shift is not. It will be a shift toward a legal structure in which anything goes. The damage will be widespread and irreversible. And Gov. Lynch, who reassured us all that on his watch 'marriage is going to continue as it has,' pulled the pebble that caused the avalanche."

New Hampshire would become the sixth state to legalize “gay marriage,” although in two of those states the laws have yet to take effect. Vermont’s law goes into effect in September and Maine’s law likely won’t go into effect until voters have a say. Just as significantly, if New Hampshire does change its laws, Rhode Island would be the lone state in New England not to redefine marriage.


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Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read how "gay marriage" impacts parental rights and religious freedom visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=30209

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