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Bishop Gene Robinson (right) celebrates (AP/Jim Cole)

Granite State gays can wed

Marriage | After lengthy deliberations over religious liberty, New Hampshire becomes the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage

New Hampshire became the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage yesterday, with Gov. John Lynch signing the bill into law Wednesday night after a protracted battle over language protecting religious liberties.

Legislators and the governor have been tweaking the bill during the whole process. After both the House and Senate passed it, the governor refused to sign it unless it contained provisions with stronger protections for religious liberty. The House then rejected the governor's proposed language by two votes, but negotiated a compromise in a conference committee with the Senate. The House and Senate finally passed the same version on Wednesday, with the Senate voting 14-11, and the House voting 198-176.

Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said his organization was expecting the bill to pass the legislature and stop short at the governor's desk, since Lynch had previously made clear his personal belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, despite signing civil unions into law two years ago. Brown called Lynch's insistence on religious liberty protections a "smokescreen."

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Kevin Smith, executive director for Cornerstone Policy Research Action, said the prolonged deliberations cost traditional marriage advocates the vote: "When you get to do 12 votes on 5 different versions of the same bill, it's bound to pass sooner or later. This was just another way of them ramming this bill down at any cost possible. I've never seen any bill go through so many iterations and so many votes that I've seen this gay marriage bill go through."

The conference committee must contain members of both parties and must have a unanimous vote, but Brown noted that Senate President Sylvia Larsen removed a Republican member-Sen. Sheila Roberge-and replaced her with a Democrat after she refused to approve the legislation. "The process has just been tainted," said Smith. "It's reeked of backroom deals, and no matter how many times we defeated it they kept bringing it back."

The final text of the bill said that religious organizations "shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges" to an individual if it is related to the "solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage" that violates their religious beliefs.

In a statement to the press, Lynch said the legislation stood up "for the liberties of same-sex couples" and also "for religious liberties," protecting certain faiths from "having to participate in marriage-related activities that violate their fundamental religious principles." Smith said the religious liberty protections don't provide any protection that the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment doesn't provide already.

Now, traditional marriage advocates plan to educate voters on the way their legislators voted on the bill, with the hope of removing those who voted for same-sex marriage. New Hampshire cannot have a binding referendum on the issue like California, but traditional marriage advocates are talking about having local non-binding voter referenda, so that New Hampshire voters can publicly state their opinion on the matter and so that advocates can keep the issue at the forefront of voter's minds.

The same-sex marriage battle now moves to New York, where traditional marriage advocates have expressed confidence that they hold the advantage. If same-sex marriage legislation fails in New York, it will be the only northeast state not to allow same-sex marriage, as New Hampshire joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont.

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