By Lisa Keen
After two aborted take-offs, same-sex marriage in New Hampshire is once again poised at the top of the runway. On June 3, the state legislature is expected to pass its third version of a same-sex marriage equality bill and the governor stands ready to sign it into law.
If New Hampshire does approve the bill, it will become the sixth state to do so since Massachusetts became the first, in 2004, and Connecticut the second, in 2008. Other states include Iowa, Vermont and Maine.
Openly gay State Rep. Jim Splaine said a Senate-House conference committee voted last Friday, May 29, to recommend this third version of the same-sex marriage bill, one that adds one additional sentence. That sentence states: “Each religious organization, organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, teachings and beliefs regarding who my marry within their faith.”
It is expected the sentence will win the votes of those few members of the House who abandoned the second version of the same-sex marriage bill out of a sudden fear that it might force Catholic-affiliated fraternities, such as the Knights of Columbus, to rent their meeting halls for same-sex marriage receptions. One member suggested the second version of the bill might also force the group to provide benefits to a same-sex spouse of a member.
Splaine said neither of the two initial versions of the bill created such threats.
“Religious organizations do have the right to set their own standards and requirements of membership and participation,” said Splaine in a blog post Friday. But he said the additional sentence makes it “even clearer.”
Splaine said opponents of same-sex marriage sought language that would enable anyone who objected to same-sex marriage to be exempt from the state’s anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other things. But their efforts, he said, were rejected.
Splaine acknowledged, however, that he expects the June 3 vote in the House to still be “very close.” The first bill lost by one vote in April, but passed minutes later on a “reconsideration” vote 186 to 179. The House voted a third time when the Senate sent it a revision of the first bill, passing the bill on a 178 to 167 vote.
Then Governor John Lynch said he would sign the legislation but only if it included additional language making clear that religious institutions were exempt. The Senate passed the second bill, but the House balked on a 186 to 188 vote.
If the legislature passes and the governor signs the bill as expected Wednesday, New Hampshire becomes the fourth state this year to provide equal rights to gay couples under its marriage laws – following Iowa, Vermont and Maine. The New Hampshire law would take effect January 1.
The California legislature has twice passed same-sex marriage equality legislation only to have it vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California Supreme Court last year ruled that the state constitution required equal treatment of gay couples in marriage licensing, thus striking down a statute that banned gay marriage. But last November, voters approved a ballot measure that re-created that ban by writing it into the state constitution. The state Supreme Court ruled on May 26 that ballot initiative was valid, thus upholding the constitutional ban on gay marriage.