New Hampshire governor Craig Benson won't withdraw his nominee to the state's Human Rights Commission, a spokeswoman said, despite controversy over antigay comments the candidate made six years ago regarding a civil rights bill when he was a state representative. Benson nominated Gary Daniels at last week's executive council meeting. The council votes on the nomination next week. The seven-member commission handles complaints filed under the state's civil rights law. "This nomination is of concern to me," said councilor Ray Burton, a Bath, N.H., Republican who said a number of his constituents want him to oppose Daniels. "The Human Rights Commission has had an excellent reputation in balancing concerns from a wide variety of viewpoints. And the commission over the years has, I believe, sifted the grain from the chaff, if you will, and afforded people the opportunity to find resolutions for some very sensitive situations."
While he was a state representative, Daniels, a Republican, opposed a 1997 bill that expanded the state's civil rights law to include gays and lesbians. The bill, which passed the legislature and was signed into law by Democratic governor Jeanne Shaheen, banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and such public accommodations as restaurants and hotels. The bill also added a sentence to the law outlining the Human Rights Commission's purpose: "The agencies and councils so created shall exercise their authority to assure that no person be discriminated against on account of sexual orientation." During the debate Daniels said the state's definition of sexual orientation was inadequate and that homosexuality is unnatural, immoral, and unhealthy. "How can we accept a new set of ideas that has been primarily responsible for the spread of AIDS in this country?" Daniels said on the house floor.
Executive councilor David Wheeler, a Milford Republican who approached Daniels to see if he would be interested in the position, said he thinks Daniels is fair and a good listener and would be a great asset to the commission. Wheeler said Daniels, who sits on the state's Highway Layout Commission and
makes a living testing software for the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation, would be able to separate his beliefs from his role as a commissioner. "Gary goes by the law," Wheeler said. "He knows he has to go by the law even if he disagrees with it." Daniels has made a pledge "that he will treat matters that come before him fairly, including matters of sexual orientation," Benson spokeswoman Kelly Ayotte said about Daniels.
Daniels, 48, said Monday that his personal views would not color the decisions he would make as a member of the Human Rights Commission. "When the law was made, I disagreed with that," Daniels told the Concord Monitor. "But I am not going to go and try to force my values against what the law says someone is entitled to under their rights." Daniels said he still believes that sexual orientation should not be protected under the law. "Sexual orientation is not a constitutional right, and that is really the big difference," Daniels said. "It is not in the same category as age discrimination, sex discrimination, and ethnic discrimination."