History judges us by our fairness

I have been in the New Hampshire House and Senate for a total of 29 years, and in all that time I have probably read and voted on over 10,000 bills. Our Legislature works on many very important issues which affect people in their day-to-day lives. Budget and spending issues are foremost, and this year we have been dedicating most of our time on responding to the economic downtown and helping make sure our vulnerable citizens are helped in this time of need and uncertainty.

Of all the issues during my years in the Legislature, there are few more important than those which define how we, as a society, treat each other. The women’s equality bills of the 1970s, the disability rights bills of the 1980s, and the debate over adopting Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 1990s are the kinds of issues that have affected the way we look at one another. The judgment of history is most favorable to those civilizations that treat their people fairly and equally.

The New Hampshire Senate will consider House Bill 436, which will provide marriage equality for our gay and lesbian neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members. If the legislation passes, as it already has in the House, a same-gendered couple will be able to go to their town or city hall and pay a fee, then receive a marriage license, just like a man and a woman now do.

There are protections in the bill and in our current laws guaranteeing the continued independence of churches and religions to decide for themselves their own standards and procedures of marriage. If a church or religion does not wish to recognize marriages, they do not have to.

For the tens of thousands of New Hampshire citizens who are gay and lesbian, the time to pass marriage equality is now. Civil unions, which were adopted in 2007 through legislation that I sponsored with former Somersworth state Rep. Dana Hilliard, have been a major step forward in the cause of fairness. As of now, 646 civil unions have been celebrated. The intent, written into the law as part of that legislation, was to give all of the “rights, obligations, and responsibilities” to same-gendered couples as “civil unions” that otherwise are granted to differently-gendered couples as “marriage.” That law has helped many people.

But civil unions come up short of full marriage equality. If a company or corporation has as part of its contract that equality is given to a “married spouse,” the partners of a civil union have no equality. And only marriages are considered equal under federal laws. Would a differently gendered couple trade their “marriage” for a “civil union?”

Approving marriage equality for all our citizens is the right thing to do. Full marriage equality for our gay and lesbian citizens will not hurt any other marriage. It will serve to make our society stronger. And that is good for everyone in New Hampshire.

State Rep. Jim Splaine is a Democrat from Portsmouth.

Categories: Opinion