Saturday, 2:15 PM
New Hampshire Senate votes for same-sex marriage
By Eric Moskowitz, Globe Staff
The New Hampshire Senate voted today to allow same-sex couples to marry, setting the state in motion to become the fifth in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.
New Hampshire's House of Representatives has already approved the bill, but the Senate amended the language slightly before passing it on a 13-to-11 vote, meaning the House must approve the changes, reject them, or confer with the Senate before sending the bill to the governor.
With House approval expected, supporters and opponents are closely watching Governor John Lynch, a Democrat who has opposed same-sex marriage in the past and has not indicated whether he would sign or veto the latest measure.
On a day when the Senate also approved the use of medicinal marijuana, supporters of same-sex marriage hailed the vote as a landmark victory for individual liberty in the "Live Free or Die" state.
"It is such an important statement, especially to young people, to say if you are gay, if you are lesbian, you are no different,'' said Claire Ebel, executive director of the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "You have the same rights.''
But opponents said the vote would undermine traditional definitions of marriage.
"Now, in one fell swoop, we are about to say that, really, mothers and fathers are irrelevant, especially in areas of child-rearing,'' said Kevin H. Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, a New Hampshire group that has campaigned against the bill.
He and other opponents said they would now aim their lobbying efforts at Lynch, though it's unclear when the House will act on the bill. "It's time for him to put his money where his mouth is," Smith said.
Lynch gave no indication today of what he would do. In a statement, he called same-sex marriage an "intensely passionate and personal" issue and one that "raises strong emotions from all sides."
Former governor John H. Sununu, now chairman of the state's Republican Party, called the Senate vote "radical" and said Lynch must veto the bill. In a statement, Sununu urged Lynch to address rumors that he might opt for the quiet step of letting the bill become law without his signature, avoiding a decision to sign or veto it.
A spokesman for Lynch said the governor would make a decision only after careful review of the amended bill, should it reach him. "I don't know what the Republican Party is talking about," said Colin Manning, the spokesman.
For gay-rights supporters, the vote in New Hampshire signaled further momentum out of New England to expand same-sex marriage nationwide.
After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, Massachusetts followed with a 2003 Supreme Judicial Court decision that paved the way for same-sex marriage.
Similar legal decisions followed in Connecticut and Iowa. This month, Vermont became the first state to guarantee same-sex marriage through a legislative act. Earlier this week, Maine lawmakers recommended that their state do the same.
"There's clearly a lot of movement, and I think it's really a product of the chance people have had to see in Massachusetts and other places that when marriage discrimination ends, families are helped and no one's hurt," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a national organization based in New York.
New Hampshire's House had approved the same-sex marriage bill last month on a 186-to-179 vote, but the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended killing the measure. Today, a floor amendment designed as a compromise enabled the bill to win majority support, with 13 of 14 Democrats but none of the 10 Republicans.
The amendment distinguished between "civil marriage'' and weddings sanctioned by religious groups, spelling out that the state would not force those groups to marry same-sex couples. It also clarified that the bill would not eliminate the option to select "husband" or "wife" when applying for a marriage license, even as it would add the gender-neutral term "spouse."
The Senate version "recognizes the sanctity of religious marriages and the diversity of beliefs in our culture" while also addressing a form of state discrimination, Senate president Sylvia Larsen said in an interview after the vote.
State Representative James Splaine, the bill's primary sponsor in the House, said the amendment improved the bill. Splaine, who is gay, expects the House to endorse the changes.
"I'm very pleased . . . that we've gotten to a point where we're willing to say yes to marriage equality, which is something that I think we're going to see throughout the country soon," Splaine said. "It may take a few decades."