CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire has become the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage, after Gov. John Lynch (D) asked legislators for — and got — a version of the bill that included strong protections for individuals and institutions with religious objections to gay marriage.
Lynch signed House Bill 73 the evening of June 3, shortly after the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed it on a 198-176 vote. Senators had already approved it as well as two other changes to state law that, taken together, extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples. Last year, the New Hampshire began offering such couples civil unions substantially similar to marriage. The new marriage status will replace those unions.
With the move, New Hampshire becomes the sixth state in the nation with legalized gay marriage — and the third to approve it legislatively. The Granite State follows Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa — whose highest courts in recent years said denying marriage to gay couples violated their states’ charters — and Vermont and Maine, whose legislators also approved marriage equality for gay couples.
Lynch, a Roman Catholic who previously expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, had withheld his signature from earlier legislation. He pressed lawmakers for what he considered stronger protections in the bill for institutions and individuals who have religious objections to same-sex marriage.
The legislation as finally approved asserts, “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.”
It further states that an individual acting on behalf of a religious institution “shall not be required” to perform gay marriages if doing so ”is in violation of his or her religious beliefs and faith.”
The law also bans lawsuits against institutions or individuals with religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage’s impact on religious freedom has become a hot topic in recent months. Many groups opposed to gay marriage say its spread threatens the conscience rights of individuals, churches and other religious institutions. Gay-rights supporters counter that the First Amendment already protects churches and clergy from being forced to perform marriages to which they object. Gay-rights groups, however, do support including more explicit religious-freedom protections in bills legalizing same-sex marriage.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.)