Thursday, June 4, 2009

N.H. 6th state to legalize 'gay marriage'

CONCORD, N.H. (BP)--New Hampshire became the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize "gay marriage" Wednesday when Democratic Gov. John Lynch -- who less than two months ago said he opposed such unions -- signed into law a bill redefining marriage to include homosexuals.

Lynch's signature on three bills related to the issue came after the legislature earlier Wednesday passed H.B. 73, a bill aimed at protecting religious liberty but one that critics say falls fall short of its goal. The House passed H.B. 73 by a margin of 198-176, hours after the bill had passed the Senate along a party-line vote of 14-10, with Democrats in the majority.

His signatures on H.B. 73 and H.B. 436 -- the actual "gay marriage" bill -- leaves Rhode Island as the lone New England state not to have legalized "gay marriage" and caps a flurry of activity in recent months on the issue from that corner of the country.

H.B. 436 passed the legislature more than a month ago but had been held up until the religious protections bill cleared the both chambers, which are led by Democrats.

The "gay marriage" bill will go into effect Jan. 1.

Passage of the religious protections bill in the House came a mere two weeks after it was defeated there, 188-186, forcing a House-Senate conference committee, which made minor changes and sent it back to the full chambers. H.B. 436 also had several near-death experiences along the way and squeaked through several stages of the process.

Conservatives had lobbied against H.B. 73, hoping to force Lynch to veto the "gay marriage" bill, as he said he would if the companion bill wasn't passed.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the conservative New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Policy Research, criticized legislative leaders' handling of the bills, particularly the Senate president's removal of a member of the conference committee who opposed "gay marriage." Without that removal, S.B. 73 would not have cleared the committee.

"The process in which the legislature has rammed this legislation through from the very beginning reeks of backroom deals and a subversion of the legislative process," he said. "It has certainly tainted the validity of the gay marriage bill in minds of many citizens."

Vermont's Democratic-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' veto in April in legalizing "gay marriage," and Maine Democratic Gov. John Baldacci followed one month later by signing a "gay marriage" bill that had been backed by that state's legislature, also controlled by Democrats. Connecticut and Massachusetts previously legalized "gay marriage" via court order. Rhode Island's legislature is not expected to act on such a bill this year.

Conservatives in New Hampshire have few options other than voting out the politicians who support "gay marriage." State law does not allow citizens to gather signatures for a constitutional amendment as citizens in California can do, and it also does not allow the gathering of signatures for a Maine-like "people's veto," a unique law in that state that allows citizens to overturn recently passed laws. Maine conservatives hope to reverse that state's "gay marriage" law as soon as this fall.

Advancement of "gay marriage" in New Hampshire has been particularly disheartening for opponents, who thought they had a solid chance to defeat it. But it narrowly advanced at each stage. H.B. 436 -- the "gay marriage" bill -- actually lost by one vote in its first test in the House in March, only to be revived the same day and passed. From there, it went to the Senate, where a Democratic-led committee voted against the bill in a 3-2 vote. But on the full Senate floor an amendment was added, and Democratic Sen. Deborah Reynolds, a committee member, switched positions, allowing it to pass 13-11.

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