01/04/2012 11:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

New Hampshire Marriage Equality Repeal Vote Draws Near

Perhaps in hopes that no one will notice amid the hubbub of the New Hampshire Republican Presidential primaries, the Granite State will quickly follow that circus with a highly anticipated vote. The Nashua Telegraph is just one of many outlets reporting that the New Hampshire legislature is expected to vote this month on whether to repeal the state's marriage equality law, enacted legislatively in 2009. The GOP caucus has the seats to override Gov. John Lynch's inevitable veto, but it is unclear whether they have the actual votes in the libertarian-leaning state.

This ad is currently running in the "Live Free or Die" state, aimed directly at libertarian-leaning legislators. It's very freedomy. With a extra side of freedom:

The Telegraph reports that repeal bill sponsor Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) is quite clear that it is the intention of bill proponents to create a "separate but equal" legal institution that the state will use to recognize LGBT relationships: "This isn't taking rights away from anybody," he said. "It's trying to draw a bright line and make a distinction between [marriage and civil unions]." However, repeal opponents point out that equal may not be so equal, as the civil union law is silent on employment benefits, adoption, and other rights. Bates does not concern himself with addressing the possible discrepancies.

Proponents of repeal are trying mightily to obfuscate the hard, cold reality that there is no real impetus in New Hampshire for the legislature to take this action. From the article: "With the vote approaching, both sides argue they have public opinion on their side." There is, however, very, very scant evidence to suggest that repeal proponents have anything but a tiny, noisy minority on their side:

Supporters of the marriage repeal cite the 2010 elections, in which voters elected strong Republican majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

"The voters never asked for gay marriage. And when they had a chance to speak out on the issue on Election Day last year, they threw out of office those who changed the definition of marriage," said Jason Rose, a spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, which recently formed the July Fourth Forum political action committee in New Hampshire to lobby for the repeal bill.

Attempting to sell the 2010 midterm results as a sort of referendum on marriage equality is, frankly, delusional. But Rose can find no other evidence of grassroots impetus to support his own contention that the people of New Hampshire want this bill to pass, and there is a great deal of evidence to contradict him.

I worked as a staffer on a Democratic campaign in New Hampshire from August 2010 until election day. In that time I literally made over 15,000 phone calls to voters (we kept records). Our standard script talking points did not include LGBT issues. I made note of how many people asked or engaged me about marriage equality and other LGBT issues. It was exactly two. One person mentioned opposing marriage equality; the other mentioned having a gay son and how she was afraid that my candidate was not LGBT-supportive. I assured her that that was an entirely unfounded fear, given the candidate's positions, rhetoric, and voting record.

The overwhelming number of people I spoke to discussed jobs, the economy, taxes, the state budget, and the recently passed federal health care reform bill. Almost no one talked about any other subjects at all.

Moreover, neither side's candidates, Republican or Democrat, made marriage equality a forefront issue. They might have mentioned them among hardcore supporters, but GOP candidates especially did not run on the promise of repeal.

The fact of the matter is that the out-of-state National Organization for Marriage spent half a million dollars trying very hard to make marriage equality the focus of the 2010 elections. They funded a "Lynch Lied" campaign, using TV ads to attack the incumbent Governor John Lynch and urge voters to punish him for signing the marriage equality bill into law. They failed. The voters of New Hampshire ignored NOM and sent the popular Lynch back for an unprecedented fourth term. It wasn't an important issue. They liked Lynch and didn't care that he'd signed the bill.

Jason Rose may be able to spin and bullshit his way through a Telegraph piece to create some sort of false impression that his cause has support, but legislators would do well to remember that you can't spin and bullshit your way past cold, hard facts. And the cold, hard fact is that repealing marriage equality isn't something that the Granite Staters want done.

They Don't Have the Polling

We know this because the polling tells us so. The most recent poll released by WMUR and the University of New Hampshire showed that only 27 percent of New Hampshirites were in favor of repeal, compared with 50 percent who were strongly opposed to it. This is completely consistent with earlier polls. One taken in February 2011 led Andrew Smith, Director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, to conclude, "Strong opponents of repealing same-sex marriage outnumber strong proponents by a factor of 2 to 1. Politically, this is represents powerful resistance to changing the current law."

Strong supporters of marriage equality are double strong opponents (source: WMUR/UNH, February 2011).

The intensity of support for repealing the marriage equality bill is heavily weighed against repeal (source: WMUR/UNH, February 2011).

The actual polling picture is so bleak that opponents have decided that it's best to pretend that Democratic and independent voters don't actually exist in the universe anymore. NOM's blog recently trumpeted the great news that "Poll Shows More than 60% of Republicans Support Restoring Traditional Marriage In NH." Terrific. That bodes very well for "yes"-voting Republicans surviving their primaries. NOM must be really desperate if they are resorting to citing polls that only account for the most conservative third of the electorate (New Hampshire party registrations are, in general, about a third Democrat, a third Republican, and a third unaffiliated), and still, a full 40 percent of Republicans don't support their cause.

NOM's blog boasts that 60 percent of Republicans support them!

They Don't Have the Bodies on the Ground

If there is support for repeal, it is not only invisible in polls; it's invisible on the ground. The intensity gap was very well demonstrated in February 2010, when there were public hearings on the move toward repeal. The relative showing of supporters to opponents was not even close. The Concord Monitor reported at the time that the hearings drew 700 people and that supporters of repeal bill were outnumbered by marriage equality supporters 10 to 1. The official sign-in sheet from the State House reflected 540 in favor of marriage equality and 40 opposed, Courage Campaign reported.


Beverly Woods snapped this photo from the balcony of Representative's Hall in the State House on the day of the February 2010 hearings. Supporters of marriage equality, wearing red, clearly outnumber opponents.

New Hampshire legislators should really take a long look and this photo and the polls and contemplate their ramifications. If the forces behind repeal cannot turn out more than 40 people statewide for a public hearing, will they be able to reward the GOP at election time for doing their bidding? Will 40 people show up in November 2012 to thank them, while 540 people show up to punish them? The National Organization for Marriage is very good at using stolen pictures and Photoshop to create fictitious supporters to their cause. Legislators should remember that these Photoshopped supporters can't and won't be voting for the New Hampshire GOP on election day.

Ultimately, the GOP is wasting time trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist. They are bending to the will of an out-of-state special interest group that has no ties to New Hampshire, and no concern for the real wishes of the New Hampshire electorate. We will soon see if the GOP caucus is as apathetic to the will of their own electorate.

This would be a good time for New Hampshire residents to touch base with their representatives, Democratic and Republican, and let them know they'll be watching their vote closely. Standing Up For New Hampshire Families makes that easy.