About 300 people attended a hearing at the New Hampshire statehouse in Concord on Wednesday to express their opinions about a measure that would prohibit recognition of same-sex unions performed in other states. Sen. Russell Prescott (R-Kingston) sponsored the legislation, which already has passed the senate. The legislation has the support of Roman Catholic bishop John McCormack, head of the diocese of Manchester. "Marriage by nature and by my faith involves a man and a woman," he testified before the house judiciary committee. "That's how children are brought about." To expand the definition of marriage would undermine this unique institution, he said. Supporters say the bill is necessary to close a loophole that would force the state to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Whether the loophole really exists also drew heated debate. "This is a shotgun aimed at the hypothetical fly," said Marcus Hurn, a gay professor who teaches at Franklin Pierce Law Center. Retired Episcopal bishop Douglas Theuner said the bill appears to disallow rights residents have yet to be given.
The bill came in response to a Massachusetts supreme judicial court decision giving gay couples the right to marry. Sen. Jack Barnes (R-Raymond) said any uncertainty in New Hampshire's law invites a legal challenge and serves as "an invitation to activist judges." The committee heard from two representatives proposing to change the legislation. Rep. Howard Dickinson (R-Conway) proposed replacing it with a plan to create a study committee. Rep. Margaret Hallyburton (R-Mont Vernon) proposed new wording that makes no reference to same-sex unions but disallows recognition of any marriage not permitted under New Hampshire law. State law already disallows marriages between
members of the same sex. "The bill in my view is overreaching and is disparaging in its language," she
Several of the bill's opponents argued just that. "This bill serves no other purpose than to divide us," said former legislator Nick Panagopoulos. Its only purpose "is to spread a message of hate." Rep. Corey Corbin (D-Sandown) called it the most discriminatory legislation he'd ever seen. Some supporters said gay marriage will hurt children and spoke of gay and lesbian parents in the same breath as divorced and single parents. "I do not believe any alternative family structure is as reliable and promising as the traditional structure," said Rep. Paul Brassard (D-Manchester). Opponents countered with studies that show no difference between children raised by gay or straight parents. The Reverend Leanne Tigert of the United Church of Christ, a lesbian who helped raise her partner's children, said the only hardship unique to children with homosexual parents is the bigotry they hear. "I'm begging on their behalf--don't make it worse for my kids," she said.