CONCORD, N.H.—A bipartisan group of New Hampshire residents, business owners and civic leaders announced a grass-roots campaign Thursday to stop lawmakers from repealing the state law allowing gays to marry.
Standing Up for New Hampshire Families leaders told reporters that Republican lawmakers should focus on helping businesses create jobs and not on repealing the gay marriage law that has been in effect almost two years. The group counts among its 200 supporters former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick.
Broderick, now dean of the University of New Hampshire Law School, was not present but issued a statement saying "it would be tragic to turn back the clock to the dark days of discrimination, intolerance and false stereotypes."
The group plans to network with friends and family as well as operate a phone bank to call lawmakers urging them to vote against the bill.
The House Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to recommend replacing the law with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives.
The bill would not enact the same civil unions law that was in effect before gays were allowed to marry. That law granted gays all the rights and responsibilities of marriage except in name. The proposed civil unions law would be open to any two adults and would let anyone refuse to recognize the unions. It also would allow anyone to discriminate against such couples in employment, housing and public accommodations based on religious or moral beliefs.
Supporters said the two proposed repeal bills would not apply to gay marriages that have already occurred, but would stop new ones. More than 1,500 New Hampshire gay couples have married so far under the current law.
But opponents said the law has conflicting provisions that appear to bar the courts from recognizing same-sex relationships as valid, while declaring gay marriages in effect before the repeal took effect to remain valid.
Irena Goddard, chairwoman of the Hopkinton Republican committee, said she was born in the former communist Czechoslovakia. She called the repeal bill "misguided legislation" brought by people using scare tactics to push a social agenda instead of on ways to improve the economy.
Republican businessman Craig Stowell said the replacement measure is not a compromise and would enshrine in the law the views of a few.
Stowell, co-chairman of the group's business and civic leadership council, said he got involved because he wants his gay brother to have the right to marry the person he loves in New Hampshire when he is ready.
It is also a personal fight for Dan Innis, dean of The Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. Innis, 48, entered into a civil union with his partner, Doug Palardy, 37, two years ago and converted it into a marriage last year when New Hampshire's gay marriage law took effect.
"It's wonderful to be accepted," he said, adding that it would sadden him if lawmakers repealed the law and sent a message to people that only some are welcome in the state.
It also would create a separate class of gays whose marriages are recognized and those barred from being able to get married, he said.
The couple owns the Ale House Inn in Portsmouth and sees a mix of clients -- gay and heterosexual -- who stay there, he said. If New Hampshire repeals the gay marriage law, some might not feel welcome, he believes.
"People will be watching us," he said.
New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. New York is the latest state to legalize the unions.