Thursday, March 22, 2012

Liberty and Justice for All: Marriage Equality Wins (Again) in New Hampshire

On March 21, 2012, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire House of Representatives fought back a repeal of marriage equality by a vote of 211 to 116. Staff Attorney Janson Wu, who served on the steering committee of the campaign to fight repeal, shares his thoughts on this incredible victory.

Coming back to the gallery of the New Hampshire House of Representatives for yesterday’s vote on whether to repeal the state’s marriage equality law felt like a reunion, even if it wasn’t for the happiest of occasions. As soon as I walked into the gallery, I saw Ed Butler and Bob Thompson, two openly gay former state representatives who played pivotal roles in 2009 in passing the Granite State’s marriage equality law. Soon former state representative Melanie Levesque, with whom I also worked and whose powerful floor speech in support of marriage equality I still remember vividly, joined us. She had spoken in 2009 about how 40 years ago, she, as a black woman, could not have married her white husband in at least 16 states. How, she asked her colleagues back then, can we justify the same exclusions for gay couples today?

That was again the question of the day at the State House in Concord, as marriage equality opponents tried and failed to pass repeal of the marriage repeal legislation. While our side’s original goal was simply to secure the one-third votes necessary to sustain an expected veto of the repeal bill by Governor Lynch, as the day grew closer, a path to outright victory started to open up. In the end, we were able to kill the bill outright by a margin of 2-1, in a legislative body that is three-fourths Republican. The bipartisan vote made clear that upholding marriage equality is not, and should not, be about whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, but rather whether you believe in liberty and justice for all.

Yesterday’s vote could not have happened without the strong work and support of our coalition partners, including Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, Granite State Progress, PFLAG-NH, Freedom to Marry, and HRC.

This victory also had personal meaning for me. Having drafted the original marriage equality legislation, I felt a special ownership and pride in the law, which many in New Hampshire and nationally initially thought had no chance of passing in 2009. It was also personal, because one of my closest friends from law school married her wife in Portsmouth, and I wanted to see her commitment continue to be honored by the state in which she chose to marry. (This friend also officiated my own wedding, having introduced me and my husband many years ago.)

The fight here in New Hampshire is far from over. Our opponents will surely try to make marriage equality an issue at the ballot box, particularly with the Governor’s seat up for grabs. Yet, with over 60 percent of New Hampshire residents supporting marriage equality, it is reassuring to know that public opinion is moving in our direction, thanks to the thousands of Granite State gay couples who have married and shared their happiness with friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Today’s success affirmed not only the equality of New Hampshire’s LGBT citizens, but it recognizes the love and commitment of the almost 2,000 same-sex couples who have married in New Hampshire. And that is certainly cause for celebration.

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