Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Hampshire Gets More Progressive

Religious die-hards and family value supporters will undoubtedly be up in arms and declare marriage is losing credibility, but others will see that heterosexual golfers and several US politicians are the best examples of what marriage is.
Read on...

Jubilant gay couples have rung in the New Year in New Hampshire with wedding vows to celebrate the state's new law legalizing same-sex marriage.

At midnight, New Hampshire joined Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Iowa in allowing gay marriage. About 15 couples braved the cold to exchange vows outside the New Hampshire Statehouse in Concord. Others planned private ceremonies around the state.

The law grants no new rights to gays but eliminates the separate status for civil unions.

Couples already in civil unions have three options to convert their statuses to marriages. They can have marriage ceremonies, file marriage paperwork with their town clerks to convert their statuses during 2010 or wait until the unions are automatically converted in 2011.


New Hampshire's gay and lesbian couples are expected to gather throughout the night to ring in the start of the new year with champagne and wedding bells as New Hampshire's gay marriage law takes effect at midnight.

The law, which was signed by Governor John Lynch in June, 2009, won't grant gay and lesbian couples any more rights than they currently have under the state's civil union law, but it will give them equal access to the term "marriage".

Symbolically this is important, but more than that, when the federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, having access to terms like "marriage" and "spouse" will be helpful from a legal standpoint and could mean that New Hampshire's married gay and lesbian couples might finally have access to the 1150+ benefits that are given to heterosexual unions but are currently denied gay and lesbian partners.

The New Hampshire gay marriage bill was amended during the legislative process so that it expressly states a religious institution's right to decline to marry gay and lesbian couples. Religious organizations can also deny couples affiliated services such as wedding photography and the like.

A handful of gay and lesbian couples have said that they will gather just after midnight at the Statehouse in Concord to have their civil marriage ceremony performed, echoing the events of two years ago when many couples journeyed to the Statehouse to have their civil union ceremony at this time in 2008. Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, will officiate.

The Los Angeles Times has an insightful piece today in which they interview several of New Hampshire's gay and lesbian residents regarding the new marriage law. Some will marry just after midnight at one of the many events being held to celebrate the law's coming into effect, while others, who have had various partnership celebrations in the past, such as commitment ceremonies and civil unions, plan to wait until later in the year, preferring to take a little more time to plan their wedding.

The Los Angeles Times notes that New Hampshire's gay and lesbian couples that were previously joined in civil unions do not actually need to go through a wedding ceremony in order to be married. This is because New Hampshire's civil unions will be converted into civil marriages by 2011. After December 31, 2010, the state will no longer issue civil union licenses.

Overall, 2009 has been a mixed year for gay marriage. California's Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 which meant gay marriages would no longer be recognized after they were briefly legalized in 2008 following a court ruling that struck down a previous constitutional ban. A court case will begin in January in which lawyers will argue that Proposition 8 is itself unconstitutional.

Also in 2009, Maine lawmakers approved gay marriage, but then voters decided to block the law at the ballot despite a very strong campaign from gay rights advocates.

After a long wait, the New York Senate voted to block gay marriage legislation, while a vote on gay marriage in New Jersey is still pending.

Yet, at the same time, District of Columbia's Council voted to recognize gay marriages from out of state, and in December also chose to allow gay marriages. However, the bill must first clear Congress before it becomes law. Congress are likely to take up the issue early in 2010.

Vermont legislators also legalized gay marriage in 2009, while Iowa's Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage, finding it unconstitutional. Many conservative Iowans have called for a referendum on gay marriage in 2010, mindful that gay marriage has never won at the ballot. Iowan Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has said that he will not allow any bill that would block gay marriage to come to the floor, however.

As ever, gay marriage remains a hot-topic issue for many, and will no doubt be just as controversial in 2010 as it was in 2009.

All that said, New Hampshire is starting 2010 with a new level of recognition for its lesbian and gay couples, and although this gift is not quite complete while the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains in place, and it will most likely still be in place until 2011 at least, it is a positive way to begin 2010 and to celebrate a new year in which even more steps toward full equality can be made.


In a candlelit church brimming with family and friends, Jennifer Morton and Michelle Morrison heard an announcement they’ve waited 13 years for: they were, at long last, married.

At the stroke of midnight, the couple joined in a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” at their church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, and then rang in the New Year by observing the moments-old law allowing gay couples to marry in New Hampshire.

“It’s very exciting,” Morton said. “I’m really glad it happened in our lifetimes. I didn’t know if it would.”

Morton and Morrison, both 38, celebrated their marriage with their two children, 150 friends, family and much of the congregation. The event was open to everyone in the church, making it part New Year’s party, part wedding, part landmark moment.

“Personally, I feel honored to be able to be a part of what I think is a historical event for same-sex couples in New Hampshire,” said the Rev. Steve Edington. “It’s also a congregational event, a family event. … We have issues that not everyone agrees on, but we’re solid on this one.”

“The minute they came to our door, their family was considered as valid and real as any married couple that was here,” said Laurie Goodman, president of the congregation. “It’s nice to come together tonight and say those vows they’ve carried in their hearts so long.”

Following music, readings, vows and the big announcement by Edington – “I now pronounce that Jenn and Michelle are legally married” – the congregation let out a big cheer.

“They just have huge hearts, they really do,” said Valerie Bridge, a friend and neighbor, who was also photographing the event. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Morrison and Morton, both 38, met in 1995 while working at a childcare center in Tennessee. The two women, who realized their sexual orientation later in life, became friends, discovering their love and respect for children as common ground.

The two “laughed all day long,” Morton said, adding, “For me, Michelle was a genuine person who always put others first. It was a nice quality to have in a friend.”

“I liked her compassion, her caring personality,” Morrison said.

The pair moved to New Hampshire and by 1997, were officially a couple. They enjoyed doing everything together.

“It was an easy connection,” Morton said.

Morton’s parents were initially “shocked and concerned,” she said. “They wondered, ‘Would I be able to be happy? Could I live publicly?’ They didn’t know any gay people.”

Morton’s father, Doug Morton, said he “wasn’t as open as I should have been at first,” but he came around when he “realized the sincerity in the relationship, that they meant to each other as much as my wife and I mean to each other.”

“I couldn’t be prouder,” he added.

Morrison’s folks, however, have kept a distant relationship. They live in the Bible Belt and are strictly religious.

“They have not come to terms with it,” she said.

After the move to New Hampshire, Morrison took a corporate management job to support a future family and Morton became a nanny. She had the couple’s daughter, Grace, in March 2001 and a son, Ben, in October 2003.

Around that time, the couple was often asked why they didn’t get a civil union in Massachusetts or Vermont. It was because the union wouldn’t be recognized in New Hampshire – that is until 2008, when it became legal here.

For the couple, having a civil union was a “no brainer,” Morrison said. One reason was because they learned it should make co-parent adoption easier. Morrison had been the legal guardian of her two children but did not have the same parental rights as Morton.

The couple’s civil union took place on a warm September afternoon in 2008 among family and friends in the backyard of their house near the birch trees. Afterward, the couple filed the proper paperwork for a co-parent adoption, which went through easily.

When the discussion of gay marriage was taken up earlier this year in the state legislature, Morton said she was “cautiously optimistic. I was not convinced it would pass.”

She had reason to wonder, as the measure was on shaky ground for most of the spring.

In March, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed an initial version of a gay marriage bill. The state Senate followed suit in April, with a modified bill that affirmed religious and civil marriages, but also allowed all couples – including gays and lesbians – to pick which marriage they wished to have.

In May, following a House vote to accept the Senate-approved compromise, nearly all Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee staged a one-day walkout in protest of the quickly reached compromise.

Then, legislation stalled in the House after a majority of lawmakers rejected changes suggested by Gov. John Lynch, which would offer religious groups and employees legal protections.

The House and Senate eventually agreed to compromises, and Lynch signed a gay marriage bill into law June 3. While it does not afford gay couples additional rights, the move made New Hampshire the sixth state to allow gay marriage. After Maine voters repealed a gay marriage law there, New Hampshire is now one of five states to recognize it.

Morton recalled getting a call about the news.

“I started jumping up and down in the front yard,” she said.

“The kids were happy because we were happy,” Morrison said. “We always keep them informed, in a kid sort of way.”

In the past few weeks, Morrison and Morton filed paperwork to convert their civil union to a marriage.

A plot to hold a dual-purpose New Year’s party crystallized: The couple decided to invite their friends, family and church for a wedding at the stroke of midnight, the second the law took effect and the “first possible moment we could get married legally,” Morrison said.

“For all of us, it’s pretty significant,” agreed Mary Morton, Jennifer’s mother. “You just want them to have a normal life, not be afraid of things, or worried too much. … I think it’s the final bridge they have to cross to feel like a family.”

Morton’s brother, Adam Morton, and his wife, Amy, were married several months after the civil union.

“It was the same, but not the same,” Amy Morton said. “I’m so glad they’re able to do this.”

“It’s a fulfillment of a dream they’ve had since they’ve been together,” Doug Morton said. “It’s wonderful to see. I’m hoping as more people become aware that this is a normal part of life, acceptance will continue to grow and there will be one less prejudice in the world.”

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