After setbacks, gay marriage is legalized in NH

Posted on 05 Jun 2009 at 11:06am
By Norma Love Associated Press

Law takes effect Jan. 1, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. — The bill making New Hampshire the sixth state to allow gays to marry followed a torturous path this spring — dying and rising to life twice and facing a veto threat — that ended in a room filled with cheering, clapping supporters Wednesday, June 4, who witnessed the governor’s historic signing.

In its final version, the legislation passed in the House by its biggest margin yet — 22 votes. Gov. John Lynch, who personally opposes the unions, said the legislation struck the right balance.

"Today is a day to celebrate in New Hampshire. Today should not be considered a victory for some and a loss for others," Lynch said before signing the law. "Today is a victory for all the people of New Hampshire, who I believe, in our own independent way, want tolerance for all."

Legalizing gay marriage is a historic change for the once reliably Republican and conservative state but reflects New Hampshire’s changing demographics as younger and more liberal.

Still, the legislation faced several challenges.

Even before it was introduced, Democrats — in control since only 2006 — worried the state wasn’t ready for gay marriage, particularly since a civil unions law had only been in effect for little over a year.

In its first test in the House in March, gay marriage failed by one vote. The House revived it and sent it to an expected death in the Senate. But on the day of the Senate vote, Democrats surprised everyone by passing a revised bill — also by one vote.

But Lynch, a Democrat, promised a veto if the law didn’t clearly spell out that churches and religious groups would not be forced to officiate at gay marriages or provide other services. Legislators made the changes, but opponents defeated that revised bill by two votes just two weeks ago, hoping to force a veto.

As the legislative session neared its end, supporters had considered Wednesday their last chance to pass a bill this year.

The day began with rallies outside the Statehouse by both sides in the morning. Then, the last of three bills in the package went to the Senate, which approved it 14-10 Wednesday afternoon.

The bill then went to the key vote — in the House, which passed it 198-176 as cheers rained down from the gallery. Finally, Lynch signed the bill about an hour later as gay marriage supporters surrounded him.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, elected by New Hampshire in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, was among those celebrating.

"It’s about being recognized as whole people and whole citizens," Robinson said.

Rob Davis of Concord and his partner of 27 years, Dean Davis, were in the jubilant crowd outside afterward. They had a civil union last year.

"It didn’t go far enough," Rob Davis said of their civil union. "We’re real happy."

The law takes effect Jan. 1, exactly two years after New Hampshire began recognizing civil unions.

Opponents, mainly Republicans, objected on grounds including the fragmented process.

"It is no surprise that the Legislature finally passed the last piece to the gay marriage bill today. After all, when you take 12 votes on five iterations of the same issue, you’re bound to get it passed sooner or later," said Kevin Smith, executive director of gay marriage opponent Cornerstone Policy Research.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa already allow gay marriage, though opponents hope to overturn Maine’s law with a public vote.

California briefly allowed gay marriage before a public vote banned it; a court ruling grandfathered in couples that were already married.

New Hampshire’s decision leaves Rhode Island as the only New England state not to allow same-sex marriages. A bill there is expected to fail this year, as similar ones have in previous years.

Associated Press Writer David Tirrell-Wysocki in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

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