CONCORD, N.H. – Residents across New Hampshire have weighed in at town meetings on whether a constitutional amendment defining marriage should be put to a statewide vote, and the grass-roots coalition behind the campaign is claiming victory.

So are the supporters of same-sex marriage, which became law here Jan. 1.

With just five towns still left to vote in May, 61 towns to date have approved the question and 33 defeated it. Another 33 towns tabled the measure. In some towns it was hotly debated; in others it passed with little or no discussion. Proponents of same-sex marriage claim tabling the measure is tantamount to defeating it; opponents disagree.

It was a nonbinding vote, but it has kept the issue of same-sex marriage on the radar screen months after the Legislature soundly defeated measures to repeal the same-sex marriage law and place a constitutional amendment defining marriage on the ballot.

“I would not say it was a momentum-builder but more a reminder — just one of the many issues on which the legislature went against the will of the people,” said Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research group. “It keeps the issue fresh in people’s minds in the sense they know they didn’t get to vote on it.”

Petitioning the question onto town meeting agendas is just one strategy opponents of same-sex marriage are using to stoke the issue. The New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage is underwriting an advertising and web campaign against Democratic Gov. John Lynch. Criticizing him for signing the gay marriage bill into law was one prong of a multifaceted attack under the heading of “Lynch Lied.” The national organization is also maintaining a website by the same name.

“This is an attack on New Hampshire and the New Hampshire people,” Lynch said, in response to the ads. “I am disgusted with it and I think they should stay out.”

Rep. David Bates, the Windham Republican behind the campaign to petition the question onto town meeting agendas, says a compelling majority of voters favor the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

Bates, who formed a political action committee — Let New Hampshire Vote — said he will make use of the coalition and the article results in the fall elections.

“We will brief new candidates for office and there’s no question in the fall legislation will be filed to repeal the (gay marriage) law,” he said.

Bates called it “unbelievably appalling and arrogant” that his colleagues in the legislature refused to delay a vote on the constitutional amendment until after results were in from the town meetings.

He touted the results from two town meetings last week, in which Conway voters favored an opportunity to vote on an amendment 1,812 to 970 and in Merrimack the vote was 821 to 407 in favor.


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