New Hampshire lawmakers are considering whether to take the first step toward making their state legislature the first one to repeal a gay marriage law, even as the governor threatens a veto.
But regardless of the final outcome of the push to repeal the 2-year-old gay marriage law, both sides are pledging to continue fighting into the fall elections.
The bill, scheduled for a House vote on Wednesday, calls for repealing gay marriage in March 2013 and replacing it with a civil unions law that had been in place in 2008 and 2009. Gay marriages occurring before the repeal took effect would still be valid, but future gay unions would be civil unions. The bill also would allow voters could weigh in through a nonbinding November ballot question.
If the House passes the repeal measure, it would go to the Senate; both houses are controlled by Republicans. Democratic Gov. John Lynch has promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
A two-thirds vote of the Legislature is required to override a veto. Opponents of a repeal have lobbied hard in the House in the hopes of achieving a narrower margin if the bill passes on Wednesday. The House would be the first chamber to take up an override vote if Lynch vetoes the bill, and if it failed to muster two-thirds, the measure would die.
Repeal opponents hope to solidify what they argue is public support for gay marriage, while supporters hope to reverse the law in a region of the country that gay rights groups have strength.
The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to spend $250,000 to help lawmakers running for re-election who support repealing the law. On the other side, the New Hampshire Republicans of Freedom and Equality PAC is raising money to back Republicans who vote to retain it.
If the law is repealed, a lawsuit is expected to be filed arguing New Hampshire's law discriminates against gays who no longer can get married.
Democrats enacted both the civil unions and gay marriage laws when they controlled the Legislature, and Lynch signed both. After Republicans took control of the House and Senate in 2010, repeal legislative was introduced, but held over until this year.
The repeal legislation, sponsored by state Rep. David Bates, would ensure the 1,906 existing same-sex marriages would remain valid if the gay marriage law is repealed. Bates said it would replace the current "illegitimate definition" of marriage with one defining it as between one man and one woman.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but the governor vetoed it. An override vote could come as late as January 2014.
Since 1998, 31 states have had ballot measures related to same-sex marriage, and opponents have prevailed in every state. Those states include Maine, where voters in 2009 rejected the state's gay-marriage law.
Last month, a federal appeals court declared California's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The ruling could mean the bitterly contested, voter-approved law will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.