Thursday, May 21, 2009

Setback in New Hampshire

The New Hampshire legislature took a step back from marriage equality yesterday.

The state’s Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted down the bill in a 188-186 vote, hours after its Senate approved the legislation 14-10 along party lines. An earlier version of the bill passed the lower chamber on March 26.

The legislature had been asked to approve language that would give legal protections, including the right to decline to marry same-sex couples, to clergy and others affiliated with religious organizations.

That wording was added by Governor John Lynch, a Democrat who promised to sign the bill if those changes were made.

The House vote against the governor’s amendment means the bill will be sent to a committee that will try to resolve the differences between the two chambers. It remains unclear how the governor would respond to any changes to his wording.

Lynch has said he would veto gay marriage if his wording is not adopted.

State Representative Steve Vaillancourt, a gay Republican from Manchester, was a leading voice against the amendment securing religious liberties, saying that the House should not be “bullied” by the governor.

Vaillancourt said an earlier bill that did not provide protections to clerics or religious groups was the one that should have been passed, adding that the amended bill would allow discrimination to be written into state law.

The earlier bill passed both chambers.

I appreciate Mr. Vaillancourt’s point of view, but I also think it’s unreasonable to force a religious group to do something they are opposed to as long as there is an equally acceptable alternative. The state can’t force the Catholic church to perform weddings for non-Catholic heterosexuals any more than they can force Quaker meetings to refuse to witness same-sex marriages should they so choose.

I hope they work out the differences and the governor signs it.