Measure goes to Senate where Republican has proposed a “‘contractual cohabitation’ law; governor’s stance on gay unions unknown
CONCORD, N.H. The House took a historic step Wednesday, April 4, toward joining neighboring Vermont and a handful of other states in approving civil unions for same-sex couples.
The House voted 243-129 for civil unions that would give same-sex couples the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as married couples. Same-sex unions from other states would be recognized if they were legal in the state where they were performed.
Supporters pushed a message of equality: “Please do the right thing what you know in your heart is right,” said Rep. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua.
“Help our daughters, friends, sons and neighbors live their lives the way I believe we all want to live with the people we love in peace and dignity.”
The bill was expected to pass, but the debate dragged to three hours, with opponents throwing out last minute changes and plenty of lawmakers on both sides wanting to be heard.
One legislator tried to sidetrack civil unions by proposing relationship contracts for unmarried adults. That failed. Another proposed expanding civil unions to any two unmarried people.
Republican Rep. Maureen Mooney, a marriage opponent, turned the equality argument against gay rights activists. She said restricting civil unions to same sex-couples amounted to discrimination against heterosexual couples, roommates and others who might want to share legal benefits as a couple.
“We in New Hampshire will establish ourselves as a leader in caring for all combinations of family relationships,” she said. “I say let’s get to equality today.”
Democrats called it an attempt to confuse the issue.
“I’ve not received one e-mail, one letter, one phone call from any two brothers seeking to enter a relationship. Have you?” asked Rep. David Pierce, D-Hanover.
The House used a competing bill to legalize gay marriage to launch a study. Gay marriage supporters argue that civil unions would amount to separate-but-equal discrimination.
The civil unions bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican Bob Clegg has proposed legalizing “contractual cohabitation” as an alternative. His bill would give gays and other adults who don’t choose to marry the same legal rights as married couples.
Gov. John Lynch opposes same-sex marriage but has avoided taking a position on civil unions.
“I will weigh in on it once I make up my mind on it,” he said Wednesday.
Lynch supports providing health care benefits to state workers’ same-sex partners.
If the bill becomes law, New Hampshire will join Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut in allowing civil unions. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gays to marry.
California authorizes domestic partnerships with benefits similar to civil unions.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2007