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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Marriage Victory in New Hampshire

Updated marriage equality map from Wikipedia;
purple = same-sex marriage.

Reuters has just reported:
State lawmakers approved a bill on Wednesday to make New Hampshire the sixth U.S. state to authorize gay marriage, but the legislation still requires the governor's signature.

New Hampshire's Democratically controlled House of Representatives endorsed gay marriage in a 198-176 vote, hours after the state Senate approved the legislation by 14-10 along party lines, making the state the fourth this year to back gay marriage in the United States.

Late last month, the House rejected a similar bill. But Senate and House members met last week to reach a compromise, approving new language giving clergy and religious institutions opposed to gay marriage greater protections, including the legal right to decline to marry same-sex couples.

Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, has said he would veto a gay-marriage bill if such protections were excluded and is expected to sign the latest bill into law.

Update: Governor John Lynch signed the bill into law at 5:20 p.m. It comes into effect on January 1, 2010, exactly two years after the state began performing civil unions. The Boston Globe reports:

Gay marriage is now legal in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- all of the new England states, except for Rhode Island. Gay marriage is also legal in Iowa. . . .

When Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, New Hampshire seemed unlikely to follow. Republicans had enjoyed virtually uninterrupted control of both houses of the Legislature since the late 19th century.

But in 2006, Granite State voters unseated a pair of GOP congressmen amid rising upopularity for the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. The voters also swept Democratic majorities into the State House. A few months later, the new Legislature approved civil unions.

In early May, Lynch reiterated his position that civil unions were best for the state. But two weeks later, he said his thinking had changed. He said society's views on civil rights have "constantly evolved and expanded" throughout our history. "That is what I believe we must do today."

The Associated Press reports:

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

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

"There are a lot of people standing here who when we grew up could not have imagined this," he said. "You can't imagine something that is simply impossible. It's happened, in our lifetimes."
I know just what the bishop means. Full text of Governor Lynch's comments at the bill signing is here. Key excerpts, emphasis mine:
New Hampshire's great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections. That tradition continues today.

Two years ago in this room, I signed civil unions into law. That law gave same-sex couples in New Hampshire the rights and protections of marriage. And while civil unions was [sic] recognized as a step forward, many same-sex couples made compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system. . . .

Today, we are standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear that they will receive the same rights, responsibilities - and respect - under New Hampshire law.

Today, we are also standing up for religious liberties. This legislation makes clear that we understand that certain faiths do not recognize same-sex marriage, and it protects them from having to participate in marriage-related activities that violate their fundamental religious principles.

With the signing of this legislation today, New Hampshire will have taken every action possible to ensure that all families have equal rights to the extent that is possible under state law.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not extend the same rights and protections that New Hampshire provides same-sex families, and that should change. . . .

Most families in New Hampshire will awaken tomorrow, go to work and to school, and feel no impact from what we have accomplished today.

But for some, they will awaken tomorrow knowing we have said to them that they are equal, that they have the same rights to live and to love as everyone else.

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

That is truly the New Hampshire way.

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