Same-Sex Marriage: Will New Hampshire Be Next?

New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to make same-sex marriage legal in their state.

A same-sex marriage bill cleared the House last month, 186 to 179, after initially failing by a single vote. Its future is now in the hands of the state Senate, where it recently failed by a 3-2 vote to win the backing of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairwoman Deborah Reynolds, a Democrat, said she doesn’t think New Hampshire is ready for gay marriage. Republicans who voted against it said marriage should be between one man and one woman.

Supporters and opponents could be headed for a showdown as early as this week when the full Senate is expected to decide the same-sex marriage bill’s fate.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont already recognize gay marriage. Several other states – including Maine and New York – are considering legalizing gay marriage. California’s Supreme Court is still debating the legality of a largely Mormon and Catholic-backed initiative that rescinded the court’s earlier decision that same sex marriage is legal under the California consitution.

Mo Baxley, executive director of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, could not say if the Senate will ultimately vote to legalize gay marriage. But she did predict a fight and a close vote.

Baxley said the influx of out-of-state conservative groups – including the National Organization for Marriage, a thinly disguised front for the Mormon Church, and Catholics from Pennsylvania – have mobilized opposition to same-sex marriage.

“People in New Hampshire are squarely on the side of marriage equality and always have been,” she said.

But, Baxley said, the National Organization for Marriage has mounted an effective telephone campaign to paint the opposite picture, burning lawmakers’ telephone lines with calls from constituents against gay marriage.

New Hampshire legalized civil unions in 2007. Since Jan. 1, 2008, when the law took effect, 664 civil unions have been registered, according to Stephen Wurtz, director of vital statistics in the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office.

But Baxley said most gays and lesbians want to be married, not be part of a civil union.

Civil unions do help some couples who need specific legal protections, such as hospital visiting privileges, she said, but the rights are not comparable to marriage.

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