N.H. 6th state to legalize 'gay marriage'
Updated 12:25 a.m. Eastern, June 4
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 came after the legislature earlier in the day 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 and Christians 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.
"We are grieved at today’s action, but we are not at all surprised," Sam Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, told Baptist Press. "Homosexual activists have succeeded in making same-sex marriage legal in New Hampshire. But they have not succeeded, nor do I believe they will ever succeed, in their real goal -- to make same-sex marriage honorable in New Hampshire. Just to keep things in perspective -- today the governor of New Hampshire signed a document and changed the law. But the God of Heaven has not changed any of His laws. And I don’t expect He will."
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. He said he hopes to see the legislature and the governor's office flipped to Republican control in 2010 and for a bill banning "gay marriage" to be passed.
"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 was 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.
Social conservatives had high hopes Lynch would veto H.B. 436, because as recently as mid-April he had said he believed the "word marriage is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman." Lynch, though, disappointed conservatives in mid-May when he said he would sign the bill if a separate bill protecting religious liberties was passed. That separate bill was H.B. 73, which narrowly lost at one point but passed Wednesday and was signed into law.
"It is no surprise that the legislature finally passed the last piece to the gay marriage bill today," Smith said. "After all, when you take 12 votes on five iterations of the same issue, you're bound to get it passed sooner or later. If only the Celtics and Bruins got to re-do each of their last Game 7's as many times as this legislature has, they probably would've eventually won as well."
Legal experts who specialize in religious liberty cases, though, say the protections in H.B. 73 -- while better than none -- still fall short. As passed, H.B. 73 states that "a religious organization, association, or society" or any individual who is "managed, directed, or supervised" by a religious organization "shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual" if such a request "is related to the solemnization of a marriage."
Although that would, for instance, protect a church-owned counseling service and a church-owned retreat center, it would not protect a privately owned wedding photography business, catering service or bed and breakfast, or even a fertility doctor who has moral objections to treating a "married" same-sex couple. It also does nothing to prevent "gay marriage" from being taught in public schools, as has happened in Massachusetts, where "gay marriage" also is legal.
In one famous case of religious discrimination, the New Mexico human rights commission fined a husband-wife-owned photography business $6,600 for refusing to take pictures of a lesbian commitment ceremony.
"The New Hampshire governor is right to recognize the threat to religious liberty posed by same-sex marriage, but he underestimates the threat by a long shot," Austin R. Nimocks, an attorney with the legal organization Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. "The protections he proposes do not cover business owners and individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage, and these are exactly the kind of cases that the Alliance Defense Fund is having to defend."
Legalizing "gay marriage" also negatively impacts children, Nimocks said.
"All non-partisan research and plain common sense tells us that children need a mom and dad, so the issue is bigger than a 'personal relationship,'" he said. "In the end, the question is this: Which parent doesn't matter: a mom or a dad?"
Observers say it's no coincidence that the bills have had success in a part of the country where religion isn't as important to people. A January analysis by Gallup showed that Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine were the three least religious states in America, in that order. Gallup asked those polled: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read how "gay marriage" impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.