Monday, March 05, 2007

Could N.H. Let Couples Live Free?

Following several years of rancor about same-sex marriage, New Hampshire seems to have a decent shot at passing civil unions this legislative session. The Concord Monitor today quotes House Judiciary member Rep. Stephen Shurtleff as saying, "I think as far as civil unions, that's got a fairly good chance of passage. I think any individual in a relationship has a right to legally protect their assets."

This cover-your-assets angle may seem peculiar, but the Goodridge decision here also pivoted on the dual points of equal-rights and of civil contracts. Even where people get all sniffy about homosexual marriage, couples' entering into contracts has a Colonial Era history in New England.

The judiciary committee will consider three bills:
  • Massachusetts-style marriage, same-sex or different-sex
  • Civil (spousal) unions like neighboring Vermont
  • Recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions legally conducted in other states and nations
Coverage of the session in 365gay, notes that Gov. John Lynch favors civil unions. He opposes SSM .

The SSM bill (HB 0791) is from Rep. Maureen Baxley. It would amend the marriage law to accommodate SS couples and would repeal the ban on SSM. She is executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry. Muttering in the state house suggests this bill has the slimmest chance of the three.

The spousal union bill (HB 0437) is from Rep. Jim Splaine. The gay legislator sees this as an achievable increment on the way to marriage equality. He said he doubts that SSM would pass there now.

The recognition bill (HB 0235) does not introduce anything new. Instead Rep. Marlene DeChane's legislation would remove the protect-us-from-Massachusetts-SSM laws (457:3) passed after Goodridge. Note that in a real legislative atavism, a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman would be incest by existing laws (457:1 and 457:2).

New Hampshire fought the hardest in New England, but may be ready to leapfrog Maine and Rhode Island. It kind of makes one wonder what civil-union pioneer Vermont would do -- would it have to have full marriage equality?

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