March 20th, 2010
On March 10th, National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher was euphoric. She was joyously reporting that the residents of New Hampshire had voted to reject same-sex marriage (National Review Online)
Of the vote results reported by the Union-Leader, along with a couple from the Concord Monitor, seventeen towns approved and three rejected the article.
Voting for a marriage amendment were: Charlestown (620-305), Kingston (719-346), Milton (385-285), Littleton (912-627), Wakefield (504-242), Dunbarton (77-58), Kingston (719-346), Windham (1,428-832), Epsom (422-225), Bedford (2,783-1,040), Hampstead (1,190-499), Allenstown (383-198), Auburn, Swanzey (542-422), Stark (unanimously), Pittsburg (64-4), and Belmont.
Rejecting were Newhampton, Salisbury (30-27), and Northumberland (57-104).
This is a partial list; still looking for full electoral info.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy.
To understand what this means, we have to take a step back and look at how same-sex marriage came to New Hampshire and what these town votes mean.
New Hampshire is one of two states in which the legislature passed a bill which was signed by the governor which changed the family law code to allow same-sex couples to marry. This was not due to a lawsuit or other court action but was an act of the purest representative government.
To reverse this law, anti-gay activists have a few options.
They can vote for representatives who oppose marriage equality who could then repeal the law. But while it is possible for marriage rights to appear and disappear with the change (or whim) of the elected representatives, many legislators are hesitant to play so cavalierly with the lives of their constituents. Further, the representatives are aware that changing laws back and forth create complexities and legal confusion which would both make their jobs more difficult and open them up to criticism.
They can lobby for a change in the constitution, a one-time fix. However, New Hampshire does not have a initiative process and the constitution can only be changed in two ways.
The state has a provision by which a constitutional convention can be called. Every ten years (or by a majority of both houses) the people vote on whether to call a convention (the next vote is scheduled for 2012). Then delegates are elected and a convention convened. Amendments to the constitution require a 3/5 vote of the delegates and a 2/3 vote of the people. Anti-gay activists may encourage a “yes” vote on the next constitutional convention question.
The second method for changing the constitution for both houses, by a 3/5 vote, to place an amendment on the ballot. Such an amendment would require a 2/3 affirmative vote of the electorate. And it was towards the last method that the rhetoric of the anti-gay activists was directed. NOM (among others) sought to demonstrate that it was the will of the people that they be allowed to vote on the issue. And this was the focus of their language: marriage is too important to be decided by the legislature, it should have the input of the people.
NOM was hoping that folks who were moderate or even supportive of marriage would agree that a “people’s vote” was needed. And once it was on the ballot, they would dump tens of millions of dollars (from undisclosed sources) to fund a campaign of bald-faced lies and seek to enshrine the doctrines of some religious organizations into civil law.
To put pressure on the legislature and create an impression of public support, anti-gay activists used a political mechanism that is peculiar to New England states: the town meeting, a gathering of the residents to determine town business. They sought to have the towns demand of the state that the residents be allowed to vote on marriage equality.
There are (basically) two types of town meeting. A traditional type, which is a public gathering on the second Tuesday in March, works well for small communities. And, since 1995, the state has allowed a two-part meeting (called an SB2 Meeting) in which first a deliberate session is held, which creates wording, and then residents vote through polling places. These votes occur on the second Tuesday of March, April, or May. To get a matter up for consideration at a town meeting, concerned citizens can collect twenty-five signatures on a petition.
So anti-gay activists organized to have towns pass a non-binding resolution, an “opinion of the people”, if you will, to ask the legislature to “let us vote. And using the town meeting approach was actually a pretty smart move. Cities, such as Portsmouth or Dover, don’t have a non-binding resolution process, so any results would skew towards smaller towns or rural communities where conservative sentiment was more likely to thrive. Further, those fired up to “fight the homosexual agenda” were more likely to attend than residents who weren’t much interested either way.
The best scenario for anti-gay activists would be for each town to endorse the “let us vote” effort by 2/3 of the residents. This could allow NOM to spin the results as evidence that a constitutional amendment would pass and that residents demand their rights. But success would be a majority of voters – or a majority of towns – which would allow Maggie and Brian to claim that they speak for “the people”.
Even “a majority of those towns which voted”, while meaningless, would allow Maggie a press release (for NOM it’s all about perception and spin) and a “victory”. Any result which could be stretched to suggest that the legislators were out of touch with the residents of New Hampshire.
Thus the gloating comments she made at NRO.
But it seems that Maggie forgot to comment once the “full electoral info” was found. And she has good reason not to want to discuss the decisions of the New Hampshire towns.
28 towns supported the anti-gay effort
61 towns did not provide enough signatures
31 towns tabled the bill, refusing to even vote on it
33 towns voted “no” on the measure
1 town flipped the effort and voted to commend the state for supporting equality
31 towns supported the anti-gay effort
10 towns did not provide enough signatures
14 towns amended the language in the deliberative session, killing the petition
1 town flipped the effort but failed to vote to commend the state for supporting equality
There are 11 towns yet to decide. But of the 210 towns which could have supported the efforts of the anti-gay activists, only 59 chose to do so. Few of those were by a 2/3 vote.
Of course NOM and the other participants at LetNHVote are seeking to spin this as a victory. They simply don’t count the towns in which the motion was tabled or in which the deliberative sessions killed the effort, and claim that of the towns in which the residents did decide to vote, they won a majority.
But their claims ring a little hollow. It’s a bit like celebrating because the people inside the ice cream parlor voted that they like ice cream.
And for some reason, Maggie’s chortling has turned to silence.
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