New Hampshire became the sixth state in the nation today to approve gay marriage, after legislation was enacted by both the state House and Senate and then signed by Governor John Lynch.
"Today we're standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear they will receive the same rights, responsibilities and respect under New Hampshire law," Lynch said this afternoon before signing the bill at about 5:20 p.m. "It is my hope and my belief that New Hampshire will once again come together to embrace tolerance and respect and to stand against discrimination."
The new law makes New Hampshire the sixth state in the nation to allow gays to marry.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the House had voted 198-176 for the bill. The bill had been passed earlier in the day by the Senate.
Lynch said in mid-May that he would sign a bill legalizing same-sex unions as long as the Legislature made it clearer that religious groups would not be forced to conduct "marriage ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious beliefs."
Rhode Island is now the only New England state to bar gay marriage.
When Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, New Hampshire seemed unlikely to follow. Republicans had enjoyed virtually uninterrupted control of both houses of the Legislature since the late 19th century.
But in 2006, Granite State voters unseated a pair of GOP congressmen amid rising upopularity for the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush. The voters also swept Democratic majorities into the State House. A few months later, the new Legislature approved civil unions.
In early May, Lynch reiterated his position that civil unions were best for the state. But two weeks later, he said his thinking had changed. He said society's views on civil rights have "constantly evolved and expanded" throughout our history. "That is what I believe we must do today."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.