This week we received an unexpected (and pleasant) surprise here in the Granite State – the State Senate passed a same-sex marriage bill 13-11 when its outcome appeared to be in doubt. While the finish line is still to come (as will be noted) this was a big step. Read on ….Historically the one solidly Republican state in the Northeast has been New Hampshire – with our (sadly-departed) Old Man of the Mountains watching over all.

One example in particular: Carroll County was one of just three counties east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line that voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964.

But we learned there had been, very quietly, a ticking time bomb over the past few years … that detonated in 2006. A Democratic surge, fueled by anger at President Bush and the Iraq war, ousted Republicans from county clerks to congressmen. New Hampshire's two GOP House members both lost, the state legislature turned Democratic (in both houses) for the first time since 1874. What has happened to bring about these changes?

There have been three waves of in-migration to this state (during the 1990's, the New Hampshire population for the first time became greater than 50% not-born-here). That first wave was the GI Bill generation, with many moving here in search of land – which was true in many areas of the country.

The second wave came in the 1970's, when many fled neighboring Massachusetts (Taxachusetts was the often-erroneous label). Many lazy reporters these days inaccurately ascribe the changes this decade to "liberal Massachusetts" residents moving here and despoiling the political situation. In fact, the 2004 presidential election – which tilted back from supporting Bush (slightly) in 2000 to supporting Kerry (slightly) in 2004, the only state to do so – broke down by place-of-birth like this (for the life of me, I can no longer find the link):

NH natives – break-even (very slight edge to Kerry)
MA natives – Bush plus 4%
Born anywhere else – Kerry plus 6%

And so this marked the third presidential election in the last four (going back to 1992) that the voters of New Hampshire supported a Democrat for president. But the state legislature seemed impervious to change. That took the 2006 elections (which swept out our two GOP congressmen, as well).

And that came about because of the "third wave" of in-migration. This, I was surprised to learn, was something I was a part of …. (I, who don't use Facebook, Twitter or a Blackberry). It meant people who moved in-state for non-political reasons (i.e., job transfer, going away to college and re-settling there, seeking more space, skiing and outdoor recreation, etc.). That included me (a job change back in 1987) and I was among a growing part of the population, but which did not exert itself until 2006.

In addition, New Hampshire’s conservatism was more of the libertarian type. There always was an ugly side: the Manchester Union Leader newspaper helped perpetuate red-baiting, and socially conservative dogma. But for the most part: the state was at the forefront of the abolitionist movement, and this (along with a live-and-let-live, just don't bother us or raise taxes attitude) over the years found itself increasingly at odds with the rising GOP social conservative and anti-civil liberties tide.

With a new legislative majority, the NH Legislature became only the fourth one to authorize civil unions in 2007. And it was the first to do so not via court order (or the threat of a lawsuit) – it was simply the turnover in the Legislature that brought the issue forward (the former GOP majority never would have).

But going to marriage equality was a much bigger step. Neighboring Vermont saw both of its houses override Governor Jim Douglas's veto. This would not be possible here, nor was passage even certain.

But the New Hampshire House approved same sex marriage by a vote of 186-179 just last month. The Senate was considered a much longer shot.

Our excellent progressive blog Blue Hampshire had a color-coded scorecard … and it didn't look good for our side. The Democrats hold a 14-10 majority in the Senate, but all ten GOP members indicated their opposition. "OK, now can we hold serve?" was our thought.

But State Senator Betsi DeVries (from the queen city of Manchester) was on record against the bill ….

…. she had even recorded a voice mail to that effect over the weekend.

And State Senator Deb Reynolds (from a more rural district in the northern part of the state) voted against a proposed bill in committee last week. Add to that the longtime Manchester Democrat Lou D'Allesandro (a good man who said he was leaning against it) and we were staring defeat in the face.

But due to a change in the bill (which specifically said no house of worship could be compelled to conduct a marriage for same-sex couples) negotiated on Tuesday evening – both DeVries and Reynolds voted in favor, saving the day. Reynolds was quoted thusly:

She said voters in her district told her they favor the legislation, and urged the Senate to vote for an amendment that was drawn up Tuesday night.

So perhaps the push that New Hampshire progressives made to contact our Senators helped? Unsure … but it was a good feeling. Now, the last step….

The bill will need to be re-voted by both houses, due to the change. But it is expected to pass both houses (perhaps in the House by an even larger margin) ……. and that leaves it up to our governor.

John Lynch is a Democrat, but you'd be forgiven for forgetting this.

He is Barack Obama's bi-partisan urge on steroids; he was elected when former governor Craig Benson (elected in 2002) turned out to be such a shmuck that the GOP wasn't entirely sorry that he lost (barely) to Lynch. Benson was the first NH governor to be defeated for re-election after only one two-year term (Vermont and NH are the only two states left who elect governors to two-year terms). Lynch is conservative, gets on well with Republicans .. and has been re-elected twice by margins of 74-26 (in 2006) and 70-28 (in 2008). Perhaps that slippage in the 2008 race gave him the willies, as he is risk-averse to a fault.

Lynch re-appointed as Attorney General (appointed for a five-year term) someone Craig Benson put in office: Kelly Ayotte is a GOP higher-office trainee (bringing forward two death penalty cases in a state that last used it in 1938, dabbling in abortion politics, review of fetal homicide laws, etc.) How Lynch couldn't find a Democrat qualified to be AG is beyond me.

John Lynch signed the civil unions bill in 2007 with nary a peep, but has always maintained that he is "personally opposed" to same-sex marriage (and feels the civil unions bill is more than adequate). Governor Douglas of Vermont had the same line, but during the legislative session this year actually came out with the "V" word – which changed the dynamics of the debate. The blogger Andrew Sullivan was certain that Douglas got the call from the GOP hierarchy.

Lynch wouldn’t be receiving such a call as a Democrat – but neither did he came out with a definitive statement if a bill reached his desk (possibly hoping he wouldn’t have to).

So what does John Lynch say now? Again, maddeningly vague

I recognize that the issue of same-sex marriage is intensely passionate and personal, and raises strong emotions on all sides.

"I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples. This was accomplished through the passage of the civil unions law two years ago. To achieve further real progress, the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions.

So, assuming the revised bill passes both houses, what happens?

Most progressive bloggers throughout the region believe that of his three options:

(1)  Veto it
(2)  Sign it
(3)  Let it become law without his signature

… that John Lynch will choose (3) – or possibly (2). He probably didn't want to have to choose, but seeing Iowa, Vermont and Maine changing (as well as positive public opinion polls in the Granite State on same sex marriage) is giving Lynch less room to craft an excuse. Surely, he realizes that history will not be kind to a veto …. and increasingly I doubt that he will.

We’ll have to wait and see. But for now … a pleasant surprise, as I began this essay.