Governor Lynch makes history with the stroke of a pen.
By Eric Moskowitz and Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
Traditionally conservative New Hampshire today became the sixth state in the nation -- and the fifth state in New England -- where same-sex couples will be allowed to marry.
"Today we're standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear they will receive the same rights, responsibilities, and respect under New Hampshire law," Governor John Lynch said before signing the legislation in a State House ceremony at about 5:20 p.m.
Lynch said it was a New Hampshire tradition "to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections, and that tradition continues today." The room, filled by scores of the bill's supporters, resounded with applause as he signed.
"We're thrilled to death," said Mo Baxley, executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition. "We're equal. Equal isn't nothing. Equal is everything."
Gay marriage is now legal in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- all of the new England states, except for Rhode Island. Gay marriage is also legal in Iowa.
Lynch signed the bill after it was approved by both the House and Senate earlier in the day.
After the House vote, Barbara Haines, 54, of Manchester, whispered, "Repent, repent," to people passing by her in the State House halls. Haines said God meant marriage to be reserved for a man and woman. "The basis of marriage is in God, and he created the male and female to be married and have a family -- and these people are deceived," she said.
Lynch said in mid-May that he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex unions as long as the Legislature made it clearer that religious groups would not be forced to conduct "marriage ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious beliefs."
Lynch said at the bill signing ceremony that the Legislature had amended the bill so that it met his concerns.
When Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, New Hampshire seemed unlikely to follow. Republicans had enjoyed virtually uninterrupted control of both houses of the Legislature since the late 19th century.
But in 2006, Granite State voters unseated a pair of GOP congressmen amid rising upopularity for the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. The voters also swept Democratic majorities into the State House. A few months later, the new Legislature approved civil unions.
In early May, Lynch reiterated his position that civil unions were best for the state. But two weeks later, he said his thinking had changed. He said society's views on civil rights have "constantly evolved and expanded" throughout our history. "That is what I believe we must do today."
Lynch said at the bill signing ceremony that he hoped that despite passionate debate about the issue, citizens would respect each other as they had after the civil union law was passed.
"It is my hope and my belief that New Hampshire will once again come together to embrace tolerance and respect and to stand against discrimination," he said.
"Today is a victory for all the people of New Hampshire who, I believe, in our own independent way, want tolerance for all. That's truly the New Hampshire way," he said.
The law will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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