Gay Marriage Bill Passed by New Hampshire Senate

29 Apr 2009

By: Tom Fahey, State House Bureau Chief

Concord - A bill legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire passed the Senate today on a 13-11 vote.

The bill, amended on the Senate floor, draws a distinction between civil and religious marriage, and says that any two individuals have a right to join together in a civil marriage.

Last week Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Reynolds, opposed the bill and voted with a committee majority that it should be killed. She said voters in her district told her they favor the legislation, and urged the Senate to vote for an amendment that was drawn up Tuesday night.

She said the wording "gives everyone in the state the right to seek a civil marriage ... This is a compromise that is respectful to both sides in this debate and meets our shared goals of equality in state laws for all the people of New Hampshire. The people of this sate share the core values of equality for all, tolerance and acceptance regardless of our differences"

Republicans voted in a block against the measure, joined by Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester.

Sen. Matthew Houde, D-Lebanon, said many younger voters in the state have already concluded that same-sex marriage is acceptable, and are waiting for lawmakers to catch up to them.

"This is not a question of 'if' for me. It's a question of 'when.' We should be eager to be on the right side of this issue," Houde said.

Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, urged senators to reject the bill and move more slowly. "The Senate owes the people its prudence," he said.

The bill, HB 436, does not require any religious clergy to officiate at a same-sex marriage ceremony. Supporters of the bill have argued that marriage is a civil function that does not infringe on religious practice.

Opponents said gay marriage will lead to dissolution of traditional family life and societal norms.

Civil unions already sealed under existing law would convert to marriage on Jan. 1, 2011 unless couples act to change their relationship sooner.

It's not clear how Gov. John Lynch will handle the bill. He has he said thinks the word marriage should be reserved for a traditional heterosexual relationship. He has argued that the state's civil unions law already protects the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

Nothing requires Lynch to sign the bill into law. He can let it take effect without his signature once it arrives on his desk.

In a statement late this afternoon, Lynch said; "I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples. 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."

The governor did not say how he would act on the bill, which passed the House, 186-179, in late March.

New Hampshire would become the fifth state in the country to legalize same sex marriage, behind Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa.

The bill came to the Legislature only one year after a law allowing civil unions between same-sex couples took effect.

The two sides in the debate released polls this week that bolstered their position. A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, commissioned by the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, found 55 percent of respondents would approve of civil gay marriages.

The conservative Cornerstone Policy Research-Action found consensus against gay marriage in a mass phone poll of 150,000 residents. Results varied among nine Senate districts, CPR-Action said but the trend was clear.

Article taken from