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New Hampshire civil unions panel criticized for inertia

New Hampshire civil unions panel criticized for inertia

A New Hampshire panel that is supposed to be studying the issue of civil unions has met only once since it was formed eight months ago and needs to get on with its work, according to some lawmakers. "The legislature made a commitment to study this matter, but it did not follow through on that commitment," said Democratic senator Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester. "This legislature is not in the habit of not fulfilling its commitments." The commission was created as part of a law passed last May to forbid the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. As a compromise, lawmakers agreed to set up a panel to examine all state laws that would need to be rewritten--including child custody and inheritance statutes--should the state choose to allow civil unions. New Hampshire law now defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Since then, the commission has met just once, for an organizational meeting in July. A bill now before the legislature would require the commission to hold monthly meetings and at least two public hearings as well as increase its size. Those changes should rejuvenate the panel, said Rep. Gail Morrison, a Democrat from Tilton and the bill's main sponsor. "This bill is not about the outcome of the study but to make sure there's a study at all." Supporters emphasize that the goal is not to legalize same-sex marriage but to ensure that the state follows through on a promise it made to give the idea fair consideration. The commission originally was intended to have 17 members, including a representative from the state superior and probate courts. But both courts declined to participate. The new bill would add seven new members and require that at least four of them have knowledge of family law. Ed Butler is a public appointee to the panel and a board member of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, a group that supports gay marriage. He said the panel fizzled after its initial meeting because lawmakers lacked the political will to give the issue sustained study. "There has been no debate, and there hasn't been the will to bring together this commission," Butler said. But Rep. Tony Soltani, the commission's chairman, said the problem was that lawmakers had never set aside money or staff for the commission. That made it hard to mail out notices of future meetings or distribute paperwork for commission members. By law, the commission is supposed to issue a report of its research by the end of the year.

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