New Hampshire Becomes Sixth US State to Achieve Marriage Equality

4 Jun 2009

Everyone expected a close vote on the gay marriage bill in the New Hampshire House on June 3, but it wasn't. The bill passed 198 to 176, after passing the Senate, 14 to 10, that morning. Gov. John Lynch signed the bill about one hour after the House vote.

"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," Lynch said at the signing ceremony.

New Hampshire is now the sixth state to approve equal marriage rights for same sex couples following Massachusetts in 2004, Connecticut in 2008, and Iowa, Vermont, and Maine, all this year.

Splaine, a key shepherd of the measure, said the House gallery was packed with people supporting passage of the measure and there were some emotional moments in the debate.

A motion to have the vote "reconsidered" - in essence, a do-over - was soundly rejected, said Splaine.

Splaine said there's very little difference between the version of the bill that passed this week and the first two versions. One sentence, he said, was added to underscore that the law will not force religious institutions or societies to perform or support same-sex marriages ceremonies.

The New Hampshire House had recorded close votes on the marriage legislation three times before this week's vote - it rejected a bill, then passed it, then rejected a revised bill by only two votes.

Marty Rouse, the national field director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was in New Hampshire working to corral votes in the run-up to the June 3 vote, as he did for the legislature's previous debates on the issue.

What made the difference this time out, as opposed to the surprise defeat of the bill last month, said Rouse via e-mail, "is all of the building support across the state in favor of marriage equality. [New Hampshire Freedom to Marry], HRC, MassEquality and [Vermont Freedom to Marry] helped organize and mobilize support across the state.

"Legislators recognized that the time was now," he added. "We built a movement that has broad support across New Hampshire, and all of New England. The Marriage Equality Express rolls on. Next stop: New York."

The new change in the state's marriage law takes effect Jan.1, 2010. Any of the state's 600-plus same-sex couples who obtained a civil union can simply convert that certificate into a marriage license. Granite State legislators passed a civil unions law in 2007, which took effect in 2008.

"New Hampshire has now become the third state to move past civil unions to marriage, recognizing that there is no substitute for the freedom to marry and equality for all," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national Freedom to Marry organization.

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."

More attention was focused on gay marriage this week after former Vice President Dick Cheney, a staunch conservative, echoed an old position that, "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish." He made a similar remark during the 2000 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. Cheney's recent remarks on the issue came in response to a question from the audience during a National Press Club forum in Washington, D.C. He also repeated, as he had said before, that he thought the marriage issue should be decided "on a state-by-state basis."

"Different states will make different decisions, but I don't have any problem with that," said Cheney. "I think people ought to get a shot at that."

Wolfson predicted attention would now shift to New York and New Jersey, whose governors have expressed support for equal marriage rights. According to the New York Times, an anti-gay marriage group called the National Organization for Marriage has begun airing anti-gay marriage advertisements on television in New York.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. Bay Windows Associate Editor Ethan Jacobs also contributed to this report.

Article taken from Bay Windows newspaper.