Similar version has already passed House, which will now consider Senate bill
CONCORD, N.H. — The state Senate voted Wednesday, March 29 to move New Hampshire a step closer to becoming the fifth state to allow gay marriage, but made a distinction between religious and civil ceremonies, bringing back an idea the House rejected in March.
The bill, which passed the Senate 13-11, goes to the House, which can agree with the Senate, kill the bill or ask to negotiate something different.
Gov. John Lynch would only see a bill if both chambers agree. Lynch has said marriage is a word that should be reserved for the union of a man and a woman, but he has not specifically said he would veto a gay marriage bill.
"I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples," Lynch said in a statement Wednesday. "This was accomplished through the passage of the civil unions law two years ago. To achieve further real progress, the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions."
In its debate on the bill last month, the House had rejected a measure that would have established civil and religious marriage licenses, though it didn’t define the difference.
The Senate version goes into much greater detail about the distinction between the two types of marriages.
"This bill recognizes the sanctity of religious marriage and the diversity of religious beliefs about marriage while still providing equal access to civil marriage to all New Hampshire citizens," said Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from Exeter.
The bill allows churches to decide whether they will conduct religious marriages for same-sex couples. Civil marriages would be available to both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
Also in contrast to the House’s version, the Senate’s would allow each party to the marriage to be identified as bride, groom or spouse. Same-sex couples united by civil unions in the past year would automatically be assumed to have a "civil marriage" under the bill.
"This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides of this debate and meets our shared goal of equality under state law," said. Sen. Deborah Reynolds, a Democrat from Plymouth.
Opponents argued that marriage is a sacred religious institution that would be cheapened by allowing gays to marry. They said gay marriages threaten the foundation of human civilization.
"The marriage of a man and a woman is not based on prejudice but on the fact of human nature," Republican Sen. Robert Letourneau of Derry said. "Only a man and a woman can bear children. … Only through the union of a man and a woman life can begin and a child can have a father and a mother."
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa allow gay marriage. California briefly allowed it last year, but a voter initiative in November repealed it.
In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign a gay marriage bill if state lawmakers pass one that’s been introduced there. In New York, Gov. David Paterson is making another push to legalize gay marriage.
Maine legislators also are considering allowing gay marriage.
Two years ago, New Hampshire lawmakers passed, and the governor signed, a bill allowing civil unions. More than 600 New Hampshire couples have entered into civil unions since the law took effect last year.
Federal law does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages. Voters in 29 states have approved state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage.