Thursday, May 7, 2009 House says yes to gay marriage proposal House says yes to gay marriage proposal


CONCORD – Gov. John Lynch gets to decide if gay and lesbian couples can marry, after the New Hampshire Legislature moved quickly Wednesday to pass same-sex marriage.

The same-sex marriage bill (HB 436) is on its way to Lynch's desk after the House voted, 178-167, to accept the Senate-approved compromise that would let gays and lesbians marry starting Jan. 1. After legislators passed the bill, they then fixed mistakes in the bill.

Lynch declined to say if he would sign, veto or let the bill become law without his signature. Lynch has publicly said he opposes same-sex marriage, and it should be reserved for a man and a woman but never has said he would veto it.

"Ultimately, my decision will be guided by what I think is best for the people of New Hampshire and the people of this state," Lynch said.

If Lynch agrees, New Hampshire would become the sixth state where gays could marry.

Maine became the fifth state to make them legal after Gov. John Baldacci signed it into law Wednesday.

Bill at a glance
Bill No. HB 436

SPONSOR: Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth.

DESCRIPTION: This bill would legalize same-sex marriages. The House of Representatives approved the bill in late March, 186-179.
The state Senate approved an amended version of bill last week, 13-11.

STATUS: The House agreed, 178-167, to the Senate changes, and it now goes to the desk of Gov. John Lynch. The Senate and House also altered a second bill (HB 310) to fix two mistakes made in the Senate compromise and to make it clear no religious organization can be compelled to take part in any marriage ceremony that violates the group’s beliefs. The vote to approve the second bill was 14-10 in the state Senate and 180-131 in the House.
Same-sex couples have been able to enter into a civil union in New Hampshire since Jan. 1, 2008.

Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage unveiled competing television ads Wednesday trying to pressure Lynch to their point of view.

House Republican Leader Sherman Packard, of Londonderry, said Lynch better follow his personal conscience and veto this bill.

"If he doesn't, I hope the people of this state will un-elect him and elect someone who stands up for New Hampshire values," Packard said.

Lynch has not said whether he will seek a modern record fourth term in 2010.

Right after the House vote, about 20 volunteers with the Freedom to Marry Coalition went to Lynch's office to drop off 11,600 petitions from residents urging him to sign it.

Executive Director Mo Baxley could not say if a Lynch veto would damage his political future.

"I think it would be damaging for New Hampshire," Baxley said. "I don't know if it would be politically damaging for Governor Lynch."

Cornerstone Policy Research Executive Director Kevin Smith said Lynch assured the voters and residents of the state he was against same-sex marriage and only a veto would honor that commitment.

"The voters of New Hampshire will be watching to see if they can trust him to keep his word," Smith said.

Lynch confirmed calls on this issue have jammed his office switchboard for the past two days but would not sway him either way.

"I am not going to be guided by the number of calls that come into my office. That will not have an impact on my decision," Lynch said.

Meanwhile, the state Senate and then House acted on a second bill (HB 310) to correct two mistakes made in the same-sex compromise.

The changes restore the legal right of Jewish Rabbis and Quakers to perform all marriages and would let civil unions between gay couples to remain legal until Jan. 1, 2011.

The latter change would give same-sex couples in a civil union a year to decide if they want to marry or keep their current status, said state Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole.

The second bill further states no one working for a group with any religious affiliate could be forced to perform in a marriage that violated that group's faith.

"In making the technical correction, we saw an opportunity to clarify that religious organizations and not just clergy should have the right to decide how and when they participate in marriage ceremonies," Sen. Deborah Reynolds, D-Plymouth, said in a statement.

"This language is similar to the law in Connecticut, and we believe it makes sense for New Hampshire."

Some legal scholars in support of gay marriage had warned House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, that the Senate-passed bill did not adequately protect an individual's religious liberty.

But Rep. Peter Bolster, R-Alton, said this someone whose religion is against gay marriage could still be forced to work as a photographer or a reception hall employee.

"That person is wide open to being sued for discrimination because they have exercised their individual liberty and freedom to make their decision on their own conscience that I believe is what our country is based upon," Bolster said.

House and Senate Republicans protested the fixes to the same-sex marriage bill being made in each legislative body on a single day without a public hearing or a policy committee discussion in public.

"I think we are going way too fast," said Rep. Peter Silva, R-Nashua.

Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, was one of those who opposed gay marriage when it passed by seven votes in late March but voted for it Wednesday.

"I think the separation of religious and civil marriage is more clear in the Senate bill," Campbell said.

"To be frank, I also think it's important that the Legislature is acting in unison because that sends the message this is not some fringe point of view."

Rep. Kris Roberts, D-Keene, said he personally opposes gay marriage but there was no good reason to block it for gays and lesbians who love each other.

"I am supporting this bill despite my personal beliefs that I may have. In the end, no one will care or even remember how any of us voted. What they will remember is whether this improved the lives of some without damaging the lives of others," Roberts said.

"I believe this bill meets that requirement."

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