CONCORD, N.H. (AP) –
The bill that wouldn’t die passed Wednesday by its biggest margin yet in the House – 22 votes.
Gay marriage died and was reborn twice in three months before Gov. John Lynch _ who personally opposes the unions _ signed legislation making New Hampshire the sixth state to allow gays to marry.
The bill followed a torturous path that led to a room filled with cheering, clapping supporters to witness the historic signing.
Democrats _ only in control since 2006 _ worried the state wasn’t ready for gay marriage, particularly since a civil unions law had only been in effect for little over a year.
In its first test in the House in March, gay marriage failed by one vote. But the House revived it and sent it to an expected death in the Senate. On the day of the Senate vote, Democrats surprised everyone by passing a revised bill _ by one vote.
Then Lynch insisted on more changes to protect religious institutions.
Opponents defeated Lynch’s changes by two votes just two weeks ago, hoping to force a veto.
Supporters had considered Wednesday their last chance to pass a bill this year. Before the House vote, the Senate passed it 14-10.
“Today is a day to celebrate in New Hampshire. Today should not be considered a victory for some and a loss for others,” Lynch said before signing the law. “Today is a victory for all the people of New Hampshire, who I believe, in our own independent way, want tolerance for all.”
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, elected by New Hampshire in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, was among those celebrating.
“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. You can’t imagine something that is simply impossible. It’s happened, in our lifetimes.”
The law takes effect Jan. 1, exactly two years after New Hampshire began recognizing civil unions.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa already allow gay marriage, though Maine opponents hope to overturn that state’s law with a public vote.
California briefly allowed gay marriage before a public vote banned it; a court ruling grandfathered in couples who were already married.
Lynch, a Democrat, had promised a veto if the law didn’t clearly spell out that churches and religious groups would not be forced to officiate at gay marriages or provide other services. Legislators made the changes.
Lynch said the legislation struck the right balance.
“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. “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.”
Congress should follow suit, he said. “Unfortunately, the federal government does not extend the same rights and protections that New Hampshire provides same-sex families, and that should change.”
Opponents, mainly Republicans, objected on grounds including the fragmented process.
“It is no surprise that the Legislature finally passed the last piece to the gay marriage bill today. After all, when you take 12 votes on five iterations of the same issue, you’re bound to get it passed sooner or later,” said Kevin Smith, executive director of gay marriage opponent Cornerstone Policy Research.
Legalizing gay marriage is a historic change for a once reliably Republican and conservative state, but reflects New Hampshire’s changing demographics as younger and more liberal, according to political scientists.
New Hampshire’s decision leaves Rhode Island as the only New England state not to allow same-sex marriages. A bill there is expected to fail this year, as similar ones have in previous years.