New Hampshire Senate passes gay-marriage bill

Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:28pm EDT
 
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By Andrew J. Manuse

CONCORD, New Hampshire (Reuters) - New Hampshire's Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would legalize same-sex marriage after an amendment was added that allows clergy to decline to marry gay couples.

The bill, which passed in a 13-11 vote, needs to be signed by Governor John Lynch to make New Hampshire the fifth U.S. state where gay marriage is legal. The Democrat has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the bill, but has expressed opposition to the measure.

The bill passed the state's House of Representatives on March 26 but looked set for near certain defeat in the Senate before the amendment, which appeared to mollify some critics in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

The last-minute changes to the legislation would allow clergy to decline to marry homosexual couples and give couples the freedom to either keep the words "bride" and "groom" on marriage licenses, or use the word "spouse" instead.

Because the Senate and House passed separate versions, they must resolve their differences before the bill can go to the governor, who in 2007 signed a law recognizing same-sex civil unions, making New Hampshire the fourth state to do so.

Lynch has said the word marriage should be reserved for a traditional heterosexual relationship.

The bill, which would take effect on January 1, also recognizes out-of-state gay marriages and civil unions. Couples who now have civil unions would automatically become married by January 1, 2011. The extra year allows time for a formal ceremony.

Gay marriage made big inroads this month when, in a single week, Iowa and Vermont joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing gay couples to legally wed. On Tuesday, a joint judiciary committee in neighboring Maine's legislature approved a bill to allow same-sex marriage. Maine's House and Senate could vote on the measure as early as next week.   Continued...

 
<p>Sharon Papo (R) and her partner Amber Weiss display their wedding rings after exchanging wedding vows at City Hall on the first full day of legal same-sex marriages in San Francisco, California June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal</p>