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New Hampshire House Republicans will avoid discussing gay marriage in 2011

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January 15, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

CONCORD, New Hampshire: New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage with a law that took effect January 1, 2010. At the time, a Democratic trifecta in the state passed the bill easily.[1] One year later, requests from Republican lawmakers to legislative staffers to draft repeal bills are still uncompleted. Now, it looks as if those plans may be tabled indefinitely.

House Majority Leader Representative David "D.J." Bettencourt said the item is simply not on the GOP's agenda for 2011.[2] At the same time, Bettencourt declined to say what steps GOP leadership might take to slow down a repeal bill that could be theoretically introduced by any one of the 298 Republicans in New Hampshire's lower chamber.

Activists on both side of the issue noted 'wiggle room' in Bettancourt's statement, leading to a shared presumption that the repeal question is still alive and could come back at a more auspicious time for social conservatives.[3] Providing his party's political schedule for 2011, Bettencourt said the GOP would focus on job creation and the economy, easy choices with the rough economy and the fact that 2011 is a budget year for New Hampshire.[4]

House rules allow bills in Committee to be laid over from the first year to the second year of a two year cycle, which is one way a repeal bill could survive until 2012 and be taken up then. GOP leadership did not say if there is any plan to use such a tactic. Bettencourt, however, was clear that social issues will overwhelmingly take a back seat in 2011, pointing to the fact that his party's new House majority would focus on the economic issues they campaigned on. His colleague, House Speaker William O'Brien, has openly pushed for a parental notification bill when minors seek abortions, the one social bill Republicans will definitely take up. Given the subject, that may be all the social legislation they have ammunition for.

Granite State Republicans have already been exercising their legislative majority in the House in other ways, reversing a 40 year ban on lawmakers carrying firearms at the state Capitol and beginning the process of ousting Michael Brunelle, House Democratic Floor Leader, over allegations that his job, as an executive for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and his elected office together constitute a conflict of interest.[5][6] Both moves caused pitched debate on the chamber's floor and brought national attention to the small state.

Too, the Senate and the Governor's mansion remain Democratically controlled, with Governor John Lynch returned to power for an unprecendetend fourth time in 2010, a key signal of where New Hampshire voters stand on the issue.