[EDITOR'S NOTE] The following is a guest post from Colin O'Dea, a Regional Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign. Colin was on hand for today's signing of the New Hampshire civil unions bill by Governor John Lynch. His compelling post paints an interesting behind-the-scenes look at HRC's work in New Hampshire - especially the last hours before today's historic signing.
Late on Tuesday night, I got a call from NH Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley telling me I needed to be at the New Hampshire State Capitol by 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday. I had an inkling that it had to do with the civil unions bill, so I quickly changed my flight to get an earlier one.
I got into town and met Ray at the NH Democratic Party--but he still wasn't telling me what was going on. We finally got to the state Capitol and he told me that we were going to Senate President Sylvia Larsen's office to witness her signing the civil unions bill. For this historic occasion, President Larsen was surrounded by myself, NH Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, Sen. Kathy Sgambati, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Peter Burling and Sen. Harold Janeway. What made this moment especially rewarding for me was knowing that this bill signing may have never happened without the help of HRC.
Over a year ago, HRC committed hundreds of thousands of dollars and a mountain of staff time to helping Democrats take back the state Senate. I personally made many trips to New Hampshire throughout 2006 and then spent the last 7 weeks of the campaign running the Senate Democrats' get-out-the-vote program. In the end, the Democrats picked up 6 seats, flipping the chamber from a 16-8 Republican majority to a 14-10 Democratic majority! When HRC committed to helping Democrats take back the state Senate, the candidates in turn committed to helping us pass pro-equality legislation.
While standing there in the room watching President Larsen sign the bill, I realized just how big an impact the GLBT community can have if we get involved in elections and help our friends get elected. Standing in the room was two of the six freshmen Senators HRC worked to get elected in 2006. Without their votes and commitment to equality, civil unions never would have happened. HRC flexed its political muscle in New Hampshire and the results were astounding.
After Speaker Norelli and President Larsen signed the bill, Gov. Lynch had five days to sign the bill into law. The assumption was that he was going to do this very quietly without much fanfare or press. I got a call from Ray Buckley around 11:00 p.m. that night telling me to be at the state Capitol in the Governor's office at 9:30 a.m. the next day. "Holy Hell!" I thought. "He's not going wait at all!"
When I walked into the room the next morning, I knew the Governor was signing the bill because Bishop Gene Robinson, openly gay State Rep.'s Jim Spain, Ed Butler, Danna Hilliard and Mo Baxley were all standing in the room. Over the next 20 minutes the room began to fill with reporters and well over a hundred people. I turned to Ray Buckley and asked him why so many people were here and he told me that the House Democratic Caucus was coming over to watch the signing. So, not only were over a hundred Democratic House members there but so was the Speaker, Senate President and seven or eight Senators! The Governor gave a powerful speech about the need to end discrimination in New Hampshire and to protect all families. After a year of campaigning and then lobbying, with one stroke of the pen New Hampshire had civil unions for same-sex couples.
I've spent my career traveling all over the country working on political campaigns. I've worked to help get people elected to offices at all levels of government, but there was something about this moment that was a little more special then any of the other victories. Through all the anti-gay campaigns I had seen waged against the GLBT community all over the country, I was a part of a big victory in a small, yet important, state. What kept going through my mind as I was watched the Governor sign the bill was that today we celebrate--and tomorrow we move on to the next state.