For the past two months or so, as the 2019 legislative session has wound down to a trickle, most of the attention to state politics has been focused on Gov. Chris Sununu’s record-setting pace of vetoing bills put forth by the Democratic-led House and Senate.
In particular, wrangling over the biennial state budget has been an almost daily issue, but his vetoes of worthwhile legislation to curb guns in schools, repeal voter-suppression laws and implement clean energy initiatives have kept partisan politics alive and well this summer.
Less noticed, however, has been a string of bills Sununu has signed into law, showing not every issue before the state’s leaders must come down to ideology or political gain.
In particular, we laud the governor for putting his signature to House Bill 608, expanding the state’s anti-discrimination law, particularly as it relates to gender identity and sexual orientation.
The changes are minor and commonsense in nature, adding gender identity and/or sexual orientation to the list of protections in practices and public accommodations in several instances including, specifically, relating to access to services, medicines, and medical supplies and equipment.
Given the passage last year of House Bill 1319, outlawing discrimination based on gender identity generally, one might think this type of housekeeping would be uncontentious. One would be mistaken.
Cornerstone Action, a conservative lobbying group best known for its opposition to civil unions, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, pushed lawmakers to kill the bill, arguing it would be costly and confusing. The cost the group noted? Court and jail costs to punish those who might break the new law. If that’s the argument against new laws, how would we ever enact anything? In the right-wing political blog Granite Grok, Cornerstone’s Shannon McGinley went further, calling HB 608 a “feel good” effort that “threatens our state educational, statistical, and religious institutions.”
Steve McDonald of the N.H. Conservative Majority Project and Granite Grok contended the law would give “gender, whatever that means, rights over those of biological women” because it would allow those identifying as female access to areas usually reserved for biological women or girls. This is a common fear-mongering tactic used not only to oppose gender identity rights, but transgender rights as well.
Sununu could perhaps have vetoed the bill to appease these conservative voices, while hoping the move would be lost in the avalanche of vetoes he’s issued thus far. He could have, certainly, allowed it to become law without his signature, essentially taking a hands-off approach that would leave him open to tell advocates on either side what they want to hear down the line.
That he did neither, putting his name to the bill, is to his credit.