Friday, May 15, 2009

Gay Marriage Updates: NewHampshire, Wisconsin

The Boston Globe's Eric Moskowitz reports that New Hampshire governor John Lynch announced that he would sign the bill making same-sex marriage legal in the state providing that religious groups objecting to such unions would not be forced to perform ceremonies.

Lynch's announcement sets New Hampshire, once viewed as a conservative enclave in a liberal region, on course to become the sixth state in the country - and the fourth in the last six weeks - to allow same-sex couples to marry. It would leave Rhode Island as the sole New England state to prohibit gay marriage. (snip)

While Lynch warned he would veto the bill if lawmakers do not add his language to the legislation, activists and politicians on both sides of the issue said they viewed Lynch's proposed language as a subtle, technical adjustment, making legalization of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire all but a done deal. The Senate president and House speaker announced quickly that they thought the changes would be made.

"I applaud the governor for keeping an open mind," Senate president Sylvia Larsen said in an interview last night. "The language that we will be addressing only improves the protections for religious organizations and individuals."

Representative James Splaine, the primary sponsor of the same-sex marriage legislation, said: "We can find a way to do that in the next week or two, and then we'll have marriage equality." (snip)

Lynch made his announcement amid a flurry of gains for same-sex marriage in the region. Last month, Vermont lawmakers overrode a governor's veto to legalize gay marriage; last week, Governor John E. Baldacci of Maine signed a similar bill after it passed his state's Legislature.

The laws take effect Sept. 1 in Vermont and in mid-September in Maine, though conservative groups there are trying to collect 55,000 signatures in three months to challenge the law at the polls.

Beyond New England, Iowa is the only state in which gay couples are allowed to marry, the result of a court ruling there last month. California previously issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples but ceased doing so after voters passed Proposition 8 last year.

Opponents of gay marriages say that their hopes for preserving marriage as the domain of heterosexual couples only lie with voters.

"Every time the citizens are allowed to vote, even in California, citizens vote for marriage to mean the union between one man and one woman," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. A majority of the public recognizes "that the primary role of marriage is children," he said. "It takes a father and mother to create a child, and every child has an inalienable right to be raised by a father and mother."

Splaine said New Hampshire's politicians have reflected the public will. Politicians, he said, have been driven by personal stories and a critical mass of openness, acceptance, and demystification.

"Harvey Milk's advice in 1978 - 'Come out, come out, wherever you are' - was an important message," said Splaine, who came out as a gay lawmaker in 1980. "When people see that we're their friends, their co-workers, their family members, it becomes much more difficult for people to discriminate."

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