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The Cause: Same Sex Rights Advocate Craig Stowell

Berta and Craig Stowell play with their six-month-old daughter, Adriana, at Craig Stowell's parents home in Claremont. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Berta and Craig Stowell play with their six-month-old daughter, Adriana, at Craig Stowell's parents home in Claremont. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

The Man: Craig Stowell, 30, of Claremont.

The Cause: Equal rights for same-sex couples, including the freedom to marry.

The Means: Stowell, the Republican co-chairman of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a bipartisan group he co-founded that supports same-sex marriage, has testified before the Legislature, organized petition drives and spoken at fundraising events in support of gay marriage.

The Impetus: A former Marine who served in Iraq, Stowell became involved in 2011, when the New Hampshire House decided to revisit same-sex marriage, which became law in New Hampshire in 2009.

I have a gay brother, so, for me, it was one of those things where it’s difficult for me to understand why he shouldn’t have the same freedoms and rights as I do. As someone who identifies as a conservative, I don’t understand where the allure comes in trying to take away someone’s personal freedoms.

Growing up, I knew my brother (Calvin) was gay. He didn’t come out until he was 21. I saw him get picked on a lot. He was never really able to tell us why he was picked on when he was younger, because he was afraid that we would know that he was gay, and maybe we wouldn’t accept him. To have to go through those kind of things is tough. And when we passed marriage equality in New Hampshire, I really felt that it was a weight lifted off his shoulders. You could see the change in him, he was very happy, very excited. But to have somebody come back and say, “Now I know I told you that you had the right to get married, Calvin, but I’m going take that away from you,” it just doesn’t sit well. This is a guy, he was the best man at my wedding; he is godfather to my daughter. I want to be there for him in his life experiences as well. I will do whatever I can to make sure he’s going be able to do those things.

We started as a group (Standing Up for New Hampshire Families) solely to protect the freedom to marry in our state. It’s one of those issues where we try to keep it singularly focused, as it is easier for someone to get behind you if you don’t have a lot of issues trailing along with you. We’re still staying active (despite the failure of the same-sex marriage repeal effort in the Legislature this year), ‘cause we still hear grumblings that this is going to be an issue again. But I hope you won’t hear our name a year from now.

I think a bipartisan group is really important on an issue like this, because it really shouldn’t come down to what party you are affiliated with. I throw mine out there, because I think there is a lot of perception that if you are a Republican, you have to be against something like this. Statistics will show you that with older Republicans, that it is a safe assumption, but once you go down the chain and hit age 44 or below, that number changes to about half (opposed to same-sex marriage).

For me, if the party doesn’t come to terms with (this issue), then they are going to start alienating people and (people will start looking) for other alternatives. I don’t want to see that. I want to see the Republican Party sticking to its core values, and I think this (support of same-sex marriage) is something that can be encompassed in its core values.

When this all started, it seemed like a very tall task. You’re up against a very large Republican supermajority (in the Legislature), and the stigma is you are just going to lose because they’re going to blindly vote against you. You meet all these people that are going to be affected by this change and (see) how just talking about repealing is already hurting them. Your heart aches for them. When we went through it, the big payoff was this year: We were able to uphold the law by a margin of 2-1 ... not many people thought it was going to end up that way.

Vince Lombardi once said, ‘The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.’ I think that holds true to anything. If I had just sat around and bellyached about this, and not actually done anything, there’s a chance we wouldn’t have had the success we have had. So, I’m excited we’re starting to see changes, especially within the Republican Party, and I expect that in the next few years you’ll be able to see more dramatic changes.

Photograph and interview by Sarah Priestap

Published in print on August 19, 2012.

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