Friday, June 05, 2009


New Hampshire joins the enlightened

State Laws for $400:

All of New England except Rhode Island... and Iowa.

“What U.S. states have non-discriminatory marriage laws?”


Yes, indeed; as of the first of 2010, New Hampshire — also in the news as the home of outgoing Supreme Court Justice David Souter — will allow people to marry, without regard to what sexes they are. It joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Iowa, an interesting blend. I’m curious to see whether Rhode Island (state motto: “Don’t blink: you’ll miss us!”) follows suit, to fill out New England.

Of course, if you’ve spent any time reading these pages, you already know how strongly I agree with fixing this problem, and spreading sensible non-discriminatory laws to all states. So I only have two small things to say about New Hampshire’s law.

1. I often wonder about the “effective dates” of laws. Sometimes it makes sense, allowing time for re-tooling or other real changes that have to be made in order to comply with or implement the law. But sometimes it seems arbitrary. What changes really have to be made for this that will take six months to effect? It seems that someone just needs to print new forms that say “Party A” and “Party B” instead of “Wife” and “Husband”, and they could start issuing these marriage licenses tout de suite. Is there really a good reason that a couple of gay Dartmouth students should have to wait six more months, or else drive across the bridge into Vermont?

2. Much has been made of the compromise wording, put in to comfort religious groups that are opposed to the law. It’s actually been toned down a bit from an earlier version, but things have been up and down:

The committee last week recommended changes further emphasizing the rights of religious groups not to participate. They include a preamble to the bill that states, “Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, teachings and beliefs regarding who may marry within their faith.”

Now, some people demanded this to “protect” religious organizations from being “forced” to perform same-sex marriages, and some are outraged that this wording was allowed in. I say: What’s the big deal? It’s both unnecessary and harmless.

As far as I can tell, no church has been forced to marry any couple in the past. Churches always have the option to decline to join interfaith couples, if their sensibilities go against such a provocative thing. A church can always refuse to hold a wedding if both parties do not adhere to the tenets of the church. And plenty of straight people have had to search far and wide to find priests, rabbis, and ministers who would perform their ceremonies.

This is no different. It allows any couple, straight or gay, to get a state license, and to have a legal marriage in the state of New Hampshire. If they want magic words and incense, they still have to go looking for that, with or without the law’s preamble.

One final thing:

Kevin Smith, director of the Cornerstone Policy Research, a group opposing the bill, said lawmakers “rammed this legislation through” in a way that “reeks of backroom deals and a subversion of the legislative process.”
Yes, well: I made no judgment about what happened in this case, but see here and here about backroom deals and subversion. This law is direct and to the point.


Frisky070802 said...

Another way to look at the church/state issue is that the state should actually be in the business of creating legal arrangements, and other institutions can bless them with whatever name they like. So give all, straight or gay, civil unions as what the state endorses and makes a binding legal arrangement. Let the churches marry anyone they like. Ensure that all other current contractual things that apply to spouses apply to the civil partnerships. Then everyone is at an equal footing, and the "marriage" issue goes out the window.

Barry Leiba said...

Exactly; I've long been in favour of that. Of course, we all know how likely that is to pass the state legislatures.