By NORMA LOVE
CONCORD, N.H. – The executive director of the driving force behind New Hampshire’s gay marriage law announced she is resigning due to insufficient funding drawn partly through the group’s national organization.
Mo Baxley led New Hampshire Freedom to Marry for nearly six years, including through the state’s adoption in 2007 of a civil unions law recognizing gay couples and then its passage two years later of a law legalizing same-sex marriage. She has been the face for the group in its fight to kill an effort next year to repeal the law.
“I am incredibly proud of the success we have had over the past six years and of New Hampshire’s status as the only state to pass equality entirely legislatively,” said Baxley, who resigned on Wednesday.
Board chairwoman Claire Ebel said the national Freedom to Marry organization stopped providing money for Baxley’s salary in May and instead poured resources into a new group it helped create, Standing Up For New Hampshire Families. She said Baxley worked for five months without pay, but could no longer afford to volunteer her time. Most of their funding is private with some contributions from members, she said.
“We will continue with a volunteer organization. We cannot continue with paid staff,” Ebel said.
Ebel said Standing Up for New Hampshire Families cut New Hampshire Freedom to Marry out of any meaningful decision-making and essentially tried to tell her group what to do.
“I’m chair of the organization and we were not invited in any meaningful way to participate,” said Ebel. “Once funding was cut off, we could not afford staff.”
Neither Ebel nor Baxley would disclose how much money the state organization had been receiving, but national Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said it was a mischaracterization to say his group funded the state group. He said the national group raised money for advocates in New Hampshire to fight for marriage laws, but both the group Baxley led and Standing Up for New Hampshire Families also conducted their own fundraising.
Wolfson said Baxley was paid out of money the national group raised last winter when a lobbyist was needed to fight the repeal bill in the Legislature. When the House postponed action on the bill until next year, the focus shifted to reaching out to other New Hampshire residents, Republicans and Democrats alike, who could speak out against the bill.
“What was needed was a broad-based vigorous campaign to deliver those voices in a really powerful way,” which no single organization could do by itself, he said.
Wolfson said he did not know when the group stopped paying Baxley. He said the state group was part of the planning that created Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, which in turn recently hired a new spokesman once legislative activity renewed on the repeal bill.
“It needs to be more than one group. It needs to be a broader range of voices speaking up,” he said.
Standing Up For New Hampshire Families declined to comment.
The House plans to vote early next year on a bill to repeal New Hampshire’s gay marriage law.
Baxley said Standing Up For New Hampshire Families is working toward the same goal, but not as a coalition with the state Freedom to Marry group. She expressed confidence that the repeal effort will fail.
“I think we’re going to win. I think (gay) marriage is going to be safe,” Baxley said.
Ebel said she is concerned about what will happen after next year’s fight if the state Freedom to Marry organization has no staff.
“Having staff makes such a difference,” she said.
Baxley said when she joined the organization it worked out of a church basement. It now has an office and enough funding left to pay the rent, but not enough for a staff person.
The House Judiciary Committee voted last week to recommend replacing the law legalizing same-sex marriage with civil unions for any unmarried adults, including relatives. The committee recommended killing a bill that simply repealed the law.
If the House passes the repeal bill, it would go to the Senate.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has repeatedly said he will veto attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the law, which he signed in 2009. New Hampshire enacted civil unions in 2007 for same-sex couples and two years later replaced that law with the marriage law. Lynch also signed the civil unions law.
State Rep. David Bates, the sponsor of the repeal bill, said Tuesday he will not pursue a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. Bates, R-Windham, said he wants the focus to be on passing his bill.
Constitutional amendments need three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses to be placed on the ballot and two-thirds approval of the voters to be adopted- a process that would take longer than passing legislation.