The New Hampshire Senate passed it; the governor was standing by to sign it; and many expected approval of a final same-sex marriage bill in the House could be swift and routine.
But in a surprise turnabout, the New Hampshire House voted 188-186 May 20 to defeat the measure.
When the House Speaker announced the vote in the House, the chamber erupted with sounds of both distress and applause. Supporters and opponents then launched immediate efforts to both save and kill the measure for this legislative session.
A motion to kill the bill—by indefinitely postponing a request to confer with the Senate on a revised bill—came up for a vote first, failing 173-202.
A motion to save the same-sex marriage bill—by requesting a conference committee with the Senate to work out the changes—passed on a 207- 168 vote.
A conference committee of seven members will now meet to see if it can work out a version of the new bill to satisfy everyone. The deadline for any legislative vote is June 25.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch was poised to sign the bill that sought to make it possible for gay couples in the Granite State to receive marriage licenses the same as straight couples.
New Hampshire's Democratic governor was a wild card until the same-sex marriage bill passed the legislature the first time on May 6. The Democrat had stated publicly that he was opposed to same-sex marriage but had also been a strong supporter, generally, of equal rights for gays. Then, just days after the bill passed, he announced that he would sign the bill—but only if the legislature passed additional language that underscores a religious exemption. No religious institution would be obligated to perform or contribute to ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs.
But during floor debate in the House May 20, opponents claimed that, even with the governor's additional language, the religious exemption was not sufficient. They claimed the bill would force religious-oriented groups, like the Catholic fraternity Knights of Columbus, to rent spaces to or provide services to same-sex couple weddings.
The language Lynch stipulated said that "a religious organization … or any individual who is managed … by … a religious organization ... shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request … is related to the solemnization of a marriage … and such solemnization … is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith."
It would also cover insurance benefits provided to the spouses of members of religious fraternal organizations.
The Senate gave its approval to the new bill—a substitute for the bill that had already passed both chambers—on May 20 by a vote of 14-10.
© 2009 Keen News Service