Monday, June 08, 2009

New Hampshire Becomes Sixth State to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

As I’m sure most folks know, last Wednesday New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. According to the Associated Press, Gov. John Lynch — who personally opposes gay marriage — signed the legislation after the Senate and House passed key language on religious rights.

Writes Associated Press writer Norma Love:

After rallies outside the Statehouse by both sides in the morning, the last of three bills in the package went to the Senate, which approved it 14-10 Wednesday afternoon.

Cheers from the gallery greeted the key vote in the House, which passed it 198-176. Surrounded by gay marriage supporters, Lynch signed the bill about an hour later.

“Today, 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,” Lynch said.

Lynch, a Democrat, had promised a veto if the law didn’t clearly spell out that churches and religious groups would not be forced to officiate at gay marriages or provide other services. Legislators made the changes.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Iowa already allow gay marriage, though opponents hope to overturn Maine’s law with a public vote.

California briefly allowed gay marriage before a public vote banned it; a court ruling grandfathered in couples who were already married.

The New Hampshire law will take effect January 1, exactly two years after the state began recognizing civil unions.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, elected in New Hampshire in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, was among those celebrating the new law.

Robinson also offered testimony before New Hampshire legislature – testimony that eloquently distinguished between civil and religious marriage. Following are excerpts from Bishop Robinson’s statement.


[My name is Gene Robinson] . . . and I serve as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Last June my partner of 28 years, Mark Andrew, and I were joined in a civil union, for which we are very grateful.

I’m here to ask your support in making the promise of equality under the law a reality in New Hampshire by allowing us to translate that second class status into the civil right of marriage. Since January 1, 2008, some 600 civil unions have been enacted. Think about what you were told eighteen months ago by those who wanted you to be fearful of this action.

Has western civilization as we know it come to an end? Has your marriage to your opposite sex partner been undermined, in any way, by my professed love for and commitment to my partner? Has the family been eroded as a cornerstone of our society, or has it been strengthened by the solemn and genuine commitments taken on by gay and lesbian couples in this state?

Does any reasonable person believe that these 600 committed couples threaten the state or the society or your marriages in any way? The fears were unfounded.

It turns out that you were right to do what you did. And now it is time to finish what you started, by making our relationships equal in the eyes of the law, and in the minds of the public, by granting marriage equality under the law to all citizens of New Hampshire.

Let me briefly speak to two concerns you might have, especially as it relates to people of faith. First, those who would continue to discriminate against some of our citizens, would tell you that we are changing the definition and meaning of marriage. They are absolutely right. But what they are WRONG about is in claiming that “marriage has always had ONE meaning.” up until now.

Marriage for men in the Old Testament included multiple wives, not to mention concubines, if you were wealthy enough. Marriage until the Middle Ages was all about property, legitimacy of heirs, and inheritance rights. So decidely so that common people and serfs on an estate were not even encouraged to marry, since there was nothing to inherit, anyways.

While marriage has served many purposes historically, including procreation, we have never prohibited from marrying, those unable to procreate, either because of infertility or advanced age. And just 40 years ago, we changed the definition of marriage to include people of different races, a change in definition that allowed Barack Obama’s parents to be married. The definition of marriage has always been evolving and the inclusion of same gender partners is simply the next logical revision of that evolution.

The second, the thing I most want you to remember most from my testimony is this: Religions and people of faith have nothing to fear from this bill. Indeed, many congregations, including those here in the Diocese of New Hampshire, already celebrate and bless the uniting of two people of the same gender in love, responsibility and mutual commitment. Permitting two people of the same sex to declare their love for one other and to assume the responsibilities of civil marriage will affect religion in NO way.

House Bill #436 makes very explicit the continuing right that NO religious organization or clergyperson is obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at ANY particular civil marriage, in violation of their first amendment freedom of religion. No denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same gender citizens.

Let’s be clear: Civil marriage is a civil action, which has gotten confused in our society, only because clergy have been permitted to act as agents of the state, in signing marriage licenses and thereby enacting civil marriages. The STATE affects a civil marriage. Churches, synagogues and mosques may pronounce God’s blessings on these marriages, if they choose, but civil marriages are still bona fide marriages, even if they are not presided over by a member of the clergy.

All the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of civil marriage pertain, even if there was nothing religious involved or intended. This is clearer in countries like France, where everyone is married at the mayor’s office – then those couples who are religious and desire a blessing, go to their place of worship for such a service.

Civil marriage is a civil act, proven by the reality that when a marriage comes unraveled, the couple doesn’t go back to the church or synagogue where the service was performed to dissolve that marriage, but to the state and its courts.

“Holy Matrimony,” that is affirming the vows made in marriage in the presence of God and in God’s church, will remain undisturbed or unchanged in any way. And no denomination or faith tradition will be required to approve of the marriage of two same gender citizens.

As a religious person and a Bishop of the Church, permit me to ask my religious colleagues who might object to marriage equality: is it right to force our religious beliefs on the rest of the citizens of this state? Just because my particular faith does not bless such marriages, does that mean that the civil right to marriage should be denied to the citizens of New Hampshire?

Just as we cherish our rights as religious people, not to be infringed upon by the state, so the state should not be infringed upon by the particular beliefs of the church. One purpose of the state is to protect equally all of its citizens, no matter their religious beliefs.

. . . And in this bill, you are merely giving all of our citizens the same and equal right, to live productive lives in stable and recognized marriages. Equal protection under the law is the dream and the promise of America.

There is hardly a more-oft repeated phrase in the Old and New Testaments that this: “Be Not Afraid.” Ladies and gentleman of the Judiciary Committee, don’t let the religious opponents to marriage equality you will hear from today and in the days to come, make you afraid to do what is right. As Americans we are promised equal protection under the law, and the inalienable right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

“Be Not Afraid” to make this equal protection a reality for ALL of the citizens of New Hampshire. Thank you.


And they weren’t afraid! As a result, New Hampshire is now the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same gender marriage.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The “Strange Decision” of the California Supreme Court
The Sacrament of . . . Relationships
Maine Becomes Fifth State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage
frank Rich on the “Historic Turning Point in the Demise of America’s Anti-Gay Movement
Recognizing the Similarities Between Racism and Heterosexism
Love and Justice in the Heartland
Love Will Prevail
Another Victory in Connecticut
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”

Image 1: A cartoon by Tole. I found this particular cartoon on the website of Michael in Norfolk, and appreciate what Michael has to say about it: “This cartoon in a nutshell shows the idiocy of the anti-gay marriage crowd and its disingenuous bloviating about the need to “protect Marriage” by denying it to same sex couples. From my years living in the straight world and supposedly perfect suburban neighborhoods, gays getting married was the least of the threats facing married couples who were struggling financially, pressed for quality time together, and often trapped in unhappy marriages because of financial and child rearing issues. Of course, our opponents on the Religious Right do nothing to address these problems – instead they blame it all on LGBT citizens. It is such bullshit.”

Image 2: Supporters of gay marriage cheer in the gallery of representatives hall in the State house after lawmakers voted in favor of gay marriage in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, June 3, 2009. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Image 3: Bishop Gene Robinson (photographer unknown).

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