To read an opposing viewpoint from Cornerstone Action’s Bryan McCormack, click here.
I was first elected to the N.H. House of Representatives in 1968. I was 21, a junior at UNH, and the youngest of the 400-member legislature.
I recall my first walk into the House Chamber that snowy early January day of 1969, taking my seat among all older people, most two and three times my age. One of my first thoughts was that I’m gay and I hope no one finds out.
The days of being afraid of one’s sexual identity being discovered are not gone, even in our state. In parts of the nation, it’s worse. In half of states one can be fired, not hired, denied housing or services just because of sexual orientation. It wasn’t until 1997 when our state became the 11th to add “sexual orientation” to our civil rights protections in legislation signed by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. The federal government has yet to adopt such law.
So, the cause of equality goes on, currently in a proposed amendment to the N.H. Constitution that adds protections for our gay and lesbian citizens. Right now, our state constitution guarantees rights based on race, creed, color, sex, and national origin.
Why wouldn’t we want to extend equality of rights to our many thousands of gay and lesbian citizens who call New Hampshire “home?” Citizens who fought in wars to protect the rights of all Americans. They are our firefighters, police officers, business people, soldiers, and teachers. They’re parents, brothers, sisters, children, and grandparents. They live in our neighborhoods, they work where we work.
I support the intent of the proposed amendment, but like other advocates of equality I also support adding another protection, one for our transgender citizens who also deserve constitutional rights. Currently, that is being debated in the House, and I’m hopeful that “gender identity” will be added.
Opponents of constitutional guarantees for our citizens voice fears that doing so creates unknown costs or dangers. I’ve heard all that before. As a state representative, I watched passage of the 2007 civil unions bill, followed just two years later by the marriage equality law – both proudly signed by Gov. John Lynch.
With the active support of thousands of citizens who courageously stepped forward to fight for equality, our state became just the fifth to adopt gay and lesbian marriage. Now, about half of all Americans live in states legally recognizing same-sex marriages.
While CACR 17 needs to add protections for our transgender individuals as well as our gay and lesbian citizens, it has raised the question of why, just why, do we discriminate against anyone based on human traits? This is not about “special rights” for a few; it’s about rights given equally, under our constitution, for all of us.
In our lives, nothing on this planet is more important than the way we treat each other. We should welcome our commonality – after all, we are biologically 99 percent alike – but we should also celebrate our differences. This would be a mighty boring life if each of us was just like each of us.
Equality is an American value that while sometimes delayed and detoured is always the path Americans eventually choose. The words “with liberty and justice for all” have both meaning and purpose. We’re all in this adventure of life together, and we only have a very short time to become friends.
(Jim Splaine served 24 years in the N.H. House and six years in the Senate. He is currently Portsmouth Assistant Mayor. He sponsored the 2007 civil unions law, the 2009 gay marriage law and a recently adopted transgender equality resolution in Portsmouth.)