boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

New Hampshire law makes same-sex civil unions legal

Governor calls signing of bill 'matter of fairness'

Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed a bill yesterday legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples beginning in January. New Hampshire will be the fourth state to offer civil unions and the first to do so without a court order or threat of one.
Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed a bill yesterday legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples beginning in January. New Hampshire will be the fourth state to offer civil unions and the first to do so without a court order or threat of one. (AP Photo)

CONCORD, N.H. -- Governor John Lynch signed a bill yesterday that will legalize civil unions for gay couples beginning in January.

"We in New Hampshire have had a long and proud tradition of taking the lead in opposing discrimination," Lynch said as he signed the bill. "I do not believe that this bill threatens marriage. I believe that this is a matter of conscience and fairness."

Legislators who gathered for the bill signing packed the governor's chambers and overflowed into an adjoining sitting room. They snapped photos and burst into applause as he signed.

Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson also attended the bill signing. He and his longtime partner plan to take advantage of civil unions.

New Hampshire is the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one. Connecticut was the first to adopt civil unions without a court order two years ago. A lawsuit challenging the marriage law was pending, but legislators said they were not influenced by it.

Vermont, California, New Jersey, Maine, and Washington also have laws allowing either civil unions or domestic partnerships, and Oregon will join the list in January.

Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs. Only Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry.

Couples entering civil unions will have the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples. Same-sex unions from other states would be recognized if they were legal in the state where they were performed.

In a busy day at the State House, votes yesterday put New Hampshire on the path to join its New England neighbors in banning smoking in bars and restaurants, but to remain the only state without a mandatory seat belt law.

The state Senate voted 16 to 8 yesterday against requiring adults to buckle up.

"Today, you may hear that 49 other states have passed similar legislation," said Senator Bob Clegg, a Republican. "I happen to be proud of the fact that here in New Hampshire, we make our own decisions. If you want to wear a seat belt, you are free to do so. If you want to risk your life by not wearing one, it is not the government's responsibility to force you to."

But Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, argued that the cost is too great. She said General John Stark, famous for the state's "Live Free or Die" motto, did not mean that people should do whatever they want.

"I ask if the words will mean the same to you from the seat of a wheelchair or to your family at your gravesite," she said.

Also yesterday, the House voted 224 to 117 to send a bill imposing the smoking ban to Lynch, who has said he will sign it. It will take effect 90 days later.

The bill died on a 12-to-11 vote in the Senate last year. This year, it passed the Senate easily, partly due to Democrats assuming control of the chamber in November.

More than a dozen states and hundreds of cities and counties around the country ban smoking in restaurants, bars or both.

New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does neither. Supporters say the ban is needed to protect workers and customers from the health risks of secondhand smoke.

"Employees should not be forced to sign away their health to earn a living," said Representative Tara Reardon, a Concord Democrat. "This bill is not antismoker. It is antismoke."

Opponents argued the state should instead educate the public about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. They also said restaurant and bar owners should decide when or if to ban smoking, not the state.

"The last time I checked, it was a legal activity," said Representative John Hunt, a Rindge Republican who tried to amend the bill to allow "fully enclosed" smoking rooms in some businesses.

The rooms would have been required to have separate ventilation systems, and employees would have been able to choose whether to enter them.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES