NH Sen. committee takes up gay marriage bill
CONCORD, N.H.—At least 500 people crowded into New Hampshire's Statehouse on Wednesday for an emotional and sometimes boisterous Senate committee hearing over whether allowing gay marriage would weaken or strengthen the institution.
Supporters argued gay marriage is a civil rights issue and that excluding gays would be discriminatory.
"This is not a time to tiptoe. Be bold," urged Beth Campbell, of Concord.
Opponents countered that marriage is a sacred religious institution that would be cheapened by allowing gays to marry. They also said gay marriage defies nature and could harm children.
Ronald Goodwin, of Alexandria, called the legislation "morally corrupt."
"Some of the women have been wearing their pants so long that some of the men have forgotten their identity. It's time the men put their pants back on," he said.
The New Hampshire Legislature is weighing a bill that would make it the fifth state to allow gay marriage. The state House has approved it, and it is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The governor hasn't said whether he would sign or veto it.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa allow gay marriage. California briefly allowed it last year, but a voter initiative in November repealed it.
In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine has pledged to sign a gay marriage bill that has been introduced. In New York, Gov. David Paterson is making another push to legalize gay marriage.
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the U.S. Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, urged the committee not to base its recommendation to the full Senate on fear of losing the next election.
"I am praying you will find courage," he said. "Courage to rise above your political considerations, courage to lead. If full marriage equality will be right some day, it is right today."
The Rev. Leanne Tigert of the United Church of Christ in Concord said she and her partner have been married in the eyes of God for almost two decades.
"This bill has nothing to do with clergy or religion, except that it is about justice and fairness," she said.
But other members of the clergy said denying gays the right to marry would not be discriminatory.
Roman Catholic Bishop John McCormack submitted a letter arguing that same-sex marriage would be inconsistent with thousands of years of human civilization.
"Marriage is not simply a matter of emotional intimacy between two people, a lifestyle choice, or purely a private relationship protected by the state," he wrote. "Civil society benefits from a stable marital order."
Others said marriage is an institution created and defined by God as between one man and one woman.
Two years ago, the Legislature approved, and Gov. John Lynch signed, civil unions for gays, which provide all the rights of marriage, except in name.
Lynch has not said specifically whether he would veto the gay marriage bill.
"I believe marriage is a word reserved for marriage between a man and a woman," Lynch said Wednesday.
New Hampshire Democrats hold a 14-9 edge in the Senate, but the Senate isn't expected to vote on the bill until after a special election April 21 decides the occupant of the 24th Senate seat. That could alter the bill's outcome. The Democratic candidate is open to the idea; the Republican is not.
More than 600 New Hampshire couples have entered into civil unions since the state's law took effect last year. The current bill would change the name from civil union to marriage.
Federal law does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages. Voters in 29 states have approved state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage.
Many attending Wednesday's hearing also participated in dueling demonstrations that created some face-to-face confrontations beforehand. Several hundred people against gay marriage and a smaller number supporting it gathered in separate groups on the Statehouse plaza, mixing briefly as they headed into the building.
"Ignorant bigot," a man who supports gay marriage called a woman who was carrying a sign that said "Grow up already. It's not just about you."
Associated Press Writer David Tirrell-Wysocki contributed to this report.