Same-sex marriage in New Hampshire
|Legal recognition of
*Not yet in effect
Same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S. state of New Hampshire on January 1, 2010, replacing civil unions. On January 1, 2011, all civil unions in the state became marriages unless otherwise dissolved, annulled or previously converted to marriage.
Following the first same-sex marriages in Massachusetts in May 2004, New Hampshire established a 14-member commission to consider the question of civil recognition of same-sex relationships. The group, composed of legislators, politicians, and activists, reported its findings in November 2005. By a 7-to-4 vote it recommended modifying the state constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions, reinforcing the state's statutory definition of marriage to prevent the judiciary from finding a constitutional requirement that same-sex couples be allowed to wed. They defeated as well the idea of civil unions like those found in Vermont since July 2000. The commission proposed instead certificates that would guarantee certain rights like hospital visitation, but no financial benefits. The certificates would be available to siblings, parents, and children as well. The commission members who dissented said it spent too much time hearings attacks on the morality of homosexuality. The chairman, Tony Soltani, a Republican member of the state House of Representatives, said; "If we redefined marriage, we'd be tarred and feathered, but if we give them some rights, it will be accepted." He said homosexuality could not be compared to race, because it is an "acquired behavior" or a "combination of both nature and nurture." He added: "I know it's not a long-term solution, but it is something a child can point to and say, my representatives say I'm OK, and I'm not a freak."
Democrats became the majority party in the New Hampshire state legislature in the 2006 general election. Both Democratic and Republican legislators proposed legislation to grant same-sex couples greater civil rights. The proposals ranged from allowing a couple to enter into a "contractual cohabitation," a "civil union," a "spousal union," or a same-sex marriage. Governor John Lynch opposed same-sex marriage, but indicated that he was receptive to discussing civil unions as a means of granting certain rights to same-sex couples.
In early 2007, the legislature briefly considered a bill authorizing same-sex marriage this year until Democratic leaders assigned it to a study committee. On April 4, 2007, by a vote of 243 to 129, the New Hampshire House passed a civil unions bill that gave partners in same-sex civil unions the same "rights, responsibilities and obligations" as heterosexual married couples. Lynch took no public position until April 19, 2007, when he said that he would sign legislation establishing civil unions for same-sex couples because he believed "it is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination." On April 26, 2007, the New Hampshire Senate approved the civil unions bill 14-10 on a party line vote. On May 31, 2007, Governor John Lynch signed the civil unions bill into law, making New Hampshire "the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one." The law took effect January 1, 2008.
Licenses for civil unions became available on December 10, 2007 allowing civil unions to be formalized in the very early hours of January 1, 2008. Deputy secretary of state David Scanlan said, "As far as we're concerned, everything is on schedule."
The first civil unions were formed throughout New Hampshire just after midnight on January 1, 2008. The largest gathering occurred on the steps of the State House in Concord. An estimated 40 couples participated as 200-300 friends, family and onlookers observed. The event drew one protestor who "quietly handed out a statement calling all sex outside of heterosexual marriage a sin".
Under the New Hampshire civil unions law, same-sex civil unions or marriages conducted in other states are recognized as civil unions in New Hampshire. House Bill 1415 was introduced by Representative Maureen Mooney to repeal this portion of the current civil unions bill and was ultimately deemed inexpedient to legislate, a legislative procedure equivalent to not passing the bill out of committee.
At the end of 2008, after the law had been in effect for one year, approximately 600 civil union licenses had been issued by the state, while approximately 8,700 marriage licenses were issued by the state during the same period.
Civil unions in practice
Though the civil union law intended to provide "all the rights and ... obligations and responsibilities provided for in state law that apply to parties who are joined together," they actually entailed a more limited set of benefits and limitations. The benefits included:
- Access to medical care information and decision making;
- Access to proceedings and information related to partner's death, and ability to make funeral arrangements;
- Right to be placed in the same room in a nursing home;
- Health care coverage under state-regulated family plans;
- State pension benefits;
- Inheritance without a will;
- Ability to transfer property between partners without paying state taxes;
- Ability to change names by showing civil union certificate to government agencies, banks, etc. and simply stating a name preference;
- Pay or receive alimony and/or child support ordered by a court in a divorce;
- Ability to adopt as a stepparent.
The limitations associated with civil unions included:
- Legal status only recognized in certain states;
- Unclear divorce proceedings should one or both partners move out-of-state;
- If partner's death occurs out-of-state, unclear whether surviving partner may obtain death certificate and claim body;
- Employers governed by federal laws are allowed to provide health and other benefits only to heterosexual couples on a tax-free basis, whereas same-sex couples must pay income taxes on the value of such benefits;
- Partners are treated as unmarried adults under more than 1,100 federal laws;
- May jeopardize a couple's ability to adopt overseas;
- Federal privacy laws can prohibit access to some medical care information without durable power of attorney.
On March 18, 2009, the New Hampshire House of Representatives Judiciary Committee sent a same-sex marriage bill, HB 436, to the floor of the House without a recommendation following a tied 10-10 vote. On March 26, 2009, the House voted 182-183, but after a motion to reconsider the first vote, the vote was 186-179. On April 23, 2009, the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 3-2 recommended that the full Senate defeat the bill, but a week later the Senate approved an amended version of the bill 13-11. The amended bill passed the House on May 6, 2009. Governor John Lynch had yet to take a position on the legislation and had five days to exercise his veto. The bill recognized out-of-state civil unions as marriages. Couples who had New Hampshire Civil Unions would be able to apply for a marriage license, however if they did not apply for a marriage certificate their civil unions would automatically be converted to marriages on January 1, 2011.
On May 14, Lynch, though personally opposed to same-sex marriages, said he would sign the bill provided it contained increased protections for churches against lawsuits if they refuse to marry same-sex couples. Legislative leaders indicated on the same day that they would allow the changes. On May 20, 2009, the Senate passed the changes 14-10 along party lines, but the House unexpectedly failed to agree later in the day by a vote of 188-186. Opponents in that body tried to kill the bill, but failed 173 to 202. The House then voted 207-168 to ask the Senate to negotiate a compromise. On May 29, the two chambers reached a compromise with some minor changes that the governor approved. The revised legislation was approved 14–10 by the Senate and 198–176 by the House on June 3 and signed by the Governor shortly thereafter. Lynch was the second governor in the United States to sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, the first being John Baldacci of Maine.
New Hampshire law also recognizes same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
Uniform Marriage Recognition Law
New Hampshire maintains the Uniform Marriage Recognition Law (RSA 457:43 and RSA 457:44):
Residents: If any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state is prohibited from contracting marriage under the laws of this state and goes into another jurisdiction and there contracts a marriage prohibited and declared void by the laws of this state, such marriage shall be null and void for all purposes in this state, with the same effect as though such prohibited marriage had been entered into in this state.
Nonresidents: No marriage shall be contracted in this state by a party residing and intending to continue to reside in another jurisdiction if such marriage would be voided if contracted in such other jurisdiction, and every marriage contracted in this state in violation hereof shall be null and void.
While it's not clear how New Hampshire might enforce this law, it's possible that nonresident, same-sex couples who marry in New Hampshire and reside in a state with a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriages could have their marriage declared null and void based on this law.
Transition from civil unions to marriage
As of January 1, 2010, no new civil unions were established in the state. Those who entered into a valid civil union before January 1, 2010, were able to have their marriages solemnized, provided they met the legal requirements of the state marriage laws and were the same two people in the civil union. Additionally, such persons in civil unions before January 1, 2010, were able to record their civil unions with the town or city clerk who recorded the civil union and receive a marriage license, with no additional fee or solemnization required. A civil union entered into before January 1, 2010, that had not been dissolved, annulled, or merged into a marriage, was converted to a marriage on January 1, 2011.
In 2010, the legislature considered two repeal proposals, a bill to repeal both the same-sex marriage law and the state's 2007 civil union law and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The New Hampshire House defeated both of them on February 17, 2010.
On October 25, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 for a bill repealing same-sex marriage and establishing civil unions far more limited than the state's earlier civil unions. The new civil unions would not be covered by the state's anti-discrimination law and no one would be required to recognize them as the equivalent of opposite-sex marriages. The bill's effect on same-sex marriages already performed in the state was disputed. In January 2012, Representative David Bates, the principal sponsor of the legislation, said the bill would be the first legislative repeal of same-sex marriage in the U.S. and Governor John Lynch announced he would veto any repeal of the state's same-sex marriage statute. New Hampshire Republicans were generally identified with the repeal effort and they controlled the 400-member House by a 3-1 margin. The Nashua Telegraph termed the failure of the repeal effort in March 2012 "a shocking setback". The House defeated a series of attempts to modify the bill to attract moderate support by providing same-sex couples with an alternative to marriage. Bates' own amendment to delay the bill's effective date until March 31 so a non-binding referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage could be held in November failed on a vote of 188-162, with 96 of the chamber's 293 Republicans voting against the referendum. Opposing the referendum, Representative Shawn Jasper, House Deputy Majority Leader, said: "We are the most representative body in the country, if not the world. If we feel the need to go to our constituents and ask them a question, we are clearly in trouble." On March 21, 2012, the House defeated the bill on a vote of 211 to 116. By the spring of 2012, 1,900 same-sex couples had married in the state.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center released a statewide poll taken from April 13–22, 2009 which concluded that 55% of New Hampshire residents supported same-sex marriage, while 39% percent opposed it. The Center also released a poll taken January 27-February 6, 2011 which found that 62% of New Hampshire residents opposed the new Republican-dominated legislature's efforts to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage, with only 29% in favor of repeal. In addition, 51% voiced strong opposition to repeal. Another poll conducted between January 30 and February 3, 2011 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows that 59% of New Hampshire residents support allowing same-sex couples to marry and 34% are against. The poll also found that 63% of residents oppose the bill repealing same-sex marriage, while 29% support it.
A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 51% of New Hampshire voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 38% thought it should be illegal and 11% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 80% of respondents supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 45% supporting same-sex marriage and 35% supporting civil unions, while only 19% thought that there should be no legal recognition and 1% were not sure.
According to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between September 26 and October 2, 2011, 62% of the state residents were against repealing same-sex marriage, 27% were for.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between January 25 and February 2, 2012, found that 59% of New Hampshire voters were against repealing same-sex marriage, 32% were for.
The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center poll, conducted on April 2–5, 2012, found that 55.1% of the state voters support same-sex marriage, 30.9% oppose it.
A May 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 57% of New Hampshire voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 35% thought it should be illegal and 8% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 85% of respondents supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 54% supporting same-sex marriage and 31% supporting civil unions, while only 13% thought that there should be no legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between August 1 and August 12, 2012, found that 61% of New Hampshire voters were against repealing same-sex marriage, 28% were for.
A September 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found that 55% of New Hampshire voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 32% thought it should be illegal and 13% were not sure.
A January 2014 Public Policy Polling survey found that 60% of New Hampshire voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 29% thought it should be illegal and 11% were not sure.
A UCLA study from March 2009 estimates the impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry on New Hampshire’s state budget. The study concludes that allowing same-sex couples to marry, as opposed to the old civil union scheme, would result in a net gain of approximately $500,000 each year for the State. This net impact will be the result of savings in expenditures on state means-tested public benefits programs and an increase in meals and room tax revenues from increased wedding-related tourism.
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