Will New Hampshire Put Gay Marriage Front and Center in 2012?

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The new Republican majority in New Hampshire's legislature wasted little time upon assuming power before changing things around, voting on the opening day of the legislative session to allow firearms on the House floor.

The GOP's gains in the Granite State could also mean a new initiative to ban gay marriage there, just two years after the Democratic legislature voted in 2009 to allow it.

The Concord Monitor reported earlier this week that a push to ban gay marriage looms—despite the fact that Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who signed the 2009 marriage law after some deliberation, won re-election two months ago:

From Massachusetts to Maine, Washington to New York, gay marriage activists have their eye on New Hampshire, where lawmakers this session will consider whether to repeal the year-old law permitting same-sex marriage.

...the legislative calculus has flipped, with Republicans winning 19 seats in the Senate and 298 seats in the House. It seems likely that a gay marriage repeal will pass the House and Senate. The major question is whether opponents of same-sex marriage will have the two-thirds vote necessary in both chambers to override Lynch's promised veto. This time, local and national advocates have ample time to prepare their strategies.

Lawmakers could seek to pass a repeal through the legislature, or send a constitutional amendment to voters in 2012. A group called Let New Hampshire Vote is pushing for the latter strategy.

If a gay marriage ban proceeds in New Hampshire (it's a bit early to say whether it will move forward in earnest), that would put gay marriage in the spotlight during a presidential campaign year—particularly if the issue is put directly on the ballot.

Opinion on the issue in New Hampshire is closely divided, according to an April 2009 poll by the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, which found that 44.8 percent opposed same-sex marriage, while 40.8 percent supported it.

Nationally, gay marriage is not hugely popular: 48 percent oppose it, and 42 percent support it, according to a Pew study released in October.

A New Hampshire push to repeal gay marriage would pose an issue for Republican presidential contestants, but not necessarily for President Obama. With the critical New Hampshire primary in early 2012, Republicans will spend far more time there. If marriage is on the minds of New Hampshire Republicans and independents, it's the GOP candidates who will find themselves fielding questions.

(Coincidentally, a wildcard candidate is looking to stir up gay-rights controversy in the New Hampshire Republican primary. Fred Karger, a gay, formerly closeted Republican strategist from California who ran the Willie Horton attack campaign against Michael Dukakis, is exploring a bid for the presidency as part of a $5 million issue-advocacy campaign to force the GOP to confront its gay-rights views.)

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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