January 25, 2012
By Jacob Combs
The New Hampshire legislature may be holding off on voting to repeal the state’s marriage equality law, but that doesn’t mean their schedule is entirely anti-gay free. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee considered a new bill, HB 1264, that has become known as the “license to discriminate bill.” From the Eagle-Tribune:
The bill would put an exemption in state marriage law. The proposed text says no person, including a business owner or employee, should be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for wedding services in “violation of the person’s conscience or religious faith.”
Proponents of the bill say they are worried clergy could be forced to officiate same-sex marriages against their will. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that religious officials are already protected under the New Hampshire marriage law and the federal constitution. They believe the bill has a different aim: to open the door for anyone, including business and individuals, to cite their religious views in denying services to same-sex couples.
This is familiar ground for marriage equality advocates. Last summer, the religious exemptions in New York’s marriage equality bill were crucial in garnering Republican support to pass the measure. The civil union bill passed last year in Rhode Island contained religious exemptions that were so broad (and could provide for such blatant discrimination) that it was condemned by many LGBT organizations. Only a few couples have entered into civil unions in the state.
Passage of the New Hampshire bill is unlikely–it is, in a way, even more radical than the overarching repeal bill. And, as ThinkProgress points out, there’s another wrinkle:
Given the bill doesn’t even specify “same-sex” marriage, it would hypothetically protect the right of “conscience” to discriminate against any kind of marriage, including interracial, binational, and interdenominational couples. For this reason, it’s likely this bill would be preempted by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other nondiscrimination statutes.