The New Hampshire primary is this week and I will, of course, be offering our thoughts on the action. At the moment I am more interested in a bill circulating through the New Hampshire legislature that would repeal gay marriage in the state. I recently finished an essay about gay marriage which you can read here, so the issue is foremost in my mind.
New Hampshire legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007 and same-sex marriage in 2009. Since then around 1800 same-sex couples have been married in the state. According to a recent poll by the University of New Hampshire same-sex marriage is supported by 62% of New Hampshire residents. Another poll conducted by Dartmouth College shows support and opposition for same-sex marriage running about even (within the margin of error). The bill, HB 437, would abolish marriage equality in the state and is expected to be considered by the state legislature after the Republican primary. This is a big issue in New Hampshire and as I wrote today, it is seriously affecting the election.
The state motto of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die”, a phrase with which many libertarians and conservatives will identify. It is a state where support for the death penalty and support for legalizing some form of marijuana both hover around 60%. It seems odd then that the state legislature would put a repeal of same-sex marriage on the agenda. New Hampshire’s state legislature is expected to pass the repeal of same-sex marriage, even though the state’s governor is expected to veto the legislation.
I therefore suspect this bill is a sop to the base. Republicans generally oppose gay marriage more than Democrats and older Republicans generally oppose it more than younger Republicans. The New Hampshire legislature is currently controlled by Republicans so bringing the bill forward may be an attempt to keep likely Republican voters on their side. Even after the governor vetoes the bill, they can put out fundraising letters saying that at least they tried. I would argue however that this is short term thinking and it will damage the Republican brand in New Hampshire.
I also don’t think Republicans in New Hampshire have the votes to override the eventual veto. I respect the fact that they may be raising the issue in order to keep campaign promises they may have made to supporters, but this will hurt them far more in the long term. Many young conservatives and libertarians who would otherwise support a Republican platform of fiscal restraint will be turned off by this bill. It also seems callow and cruel to attempt to take away a privilege that same-sex couples in New Hampshire have here-to-for enjoyed.
The majority of New Hampshire residents support same sex marriage so Republicans cannot claim to be responding to the will of the people, only the will of a small slice of their supporters. Raising the issue ahead of New Hampshire’s “first in the nation” primary has also forced Republican presidential candidates to veer off their economic and fiscal message, delving into an issue which will cost them supporters and gain them little tactical advantage. Not to mention the heartache and pain this controversy is causing to New Hampshire’s gay population; until now they may have been entertaining thoughts of someday having their “dream wedding”. Suffice it to say this is a bad idea all around.