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New England Republicans warming to, or at least ignoring, gay marriage

Posted by Rob Anderson  January 13, 2011 05:44 PM

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PX00210_9.JPGRepublicans have taken control of the legislature in New Hampshire, but they have decided not to pursue a repeal of the state's gay marriage law. Instead, they will focus on jobs and economic issues, according to House Republican leader D.J. Bettencourt.

"The social issues must take a back seat," Bettencourt said. "Everyone was in agreement we have to immediately get to work on the budget, retirement and reform education."

Their decision to ignore social issues in general, and gay marriage specifically, follows similar decisions made by Republicans in Massachusetts. Failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker hardly brought up traditional wedge issues on the campaign trail last year, focusing most of his energies on economic issues. He even picked Richard R. Tisei, an openly gay state legislator, to be his running mate.

The Massachusetts Republican State Committee also recently reelected its chairwoman, Jennifer Nassour, who came under fire by some for reaching out to gay and lesbian voters. While that vote doesn't necessarily signal that conservative activists in the state favor gay marriage, it does suggest many do not consider it as important as other issues, like the economy.

Bettencourt said there is a possibility that Republicans will pursue a repeal of gay marriage after they have passed legislation related to jobs, the economy, and education. But if they do continue to ignore it, New Hampshire may become the first state to legalize same-sex unions under Democratic control only to have Republicans leave the legislation on the books.

The decision may also reflect the growing influence of the Tea Party on Republican policy making. Tea Party activists have not made gay marriage a major issue, instead focusing on issues like the economy, health care, and the size of the government.

What remains to be seen is if Republican acceptance of same-sex unions will become a New England export, much like the unions themselves. What started in Vermont has now migrated to other states as well. Might this trend be next?

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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