The New Hampshire legislature approved revisions to a same-sex marriage bill on Wednesday, and Gov. John Lynch promptly signed the legislation, making the state the sixth to let gay couples wed.
The bill had been through several permutations to satisfy Lynch and certain legislators that it would not force religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage to participate in ceremonies celebrating it. Some groups had feared they could be sued for refusing to allow same-sex weddings on their property.
Lynch, who previously supported civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples, said in a statement that he had heard “compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system.”
“Today,” he said, “we are standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear that they will receive the same rights, responsibilities — and respect — under New Hampshire law.”
The law will take effect on Jan. 1. As originally cast, the legislation exempted members of the clergy from having to perform same-sex weddings. Then Lynch, a centrist Democrat, said he would veto the bill unless the Legislature added language also exempting religious groups and their employees from having to participate in such ceremonies.
Lynch also ordered that the bill protect members of religious groups from having to provide same-sex couples with religious counseling, housing designated for married people and other services relating to “the promotion of marriage.”
But the House rejected that language last month by a two-vote margin — a surprise that proponents attributed to poor turnout — and legislative leaders appointed a committee to negotiate a compromise.
The committee last week recommended small additional changes further emphasizing the rights of religious groups not to participate in same-sex weddings. They include a preamble to the bill that states, “Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, teachings and beliefs regarding who may marry within their faith.”
Republicans have called the committee’s work tainted because the Senate president, Sylvia B. Larsen, a Democrat, replaced one of its Republican members when that legislator would not sign off on last week’s compromise. Under legislative rules, the committee’s decision needed to be unanimous.