New Hampshire Governor John Lynch today issued a statement saying he would sign the marriage equality legislation pending in that state if changes are made to further protect religious institutions. Lynch said he sat down this morning with lawmakers and gave them specific language to add to the bill to that end.
The Nashua Telegraph reports: "The suggested change would only give a legalprotection to individuals working directly for a religious organizationor an entity that a religious group owns or controls. Thechange, for example, would not permit a self-employed photographer orcaterer to refuse to work because a same-sex marriage ceremony violatedtheir own religious beliefs."
Religious protections appear to have already been built in. Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin parses the changes, which appear slight.
STATEMENT BY LYNCH:
"The gay marriage debate in New Hampshire has been filled with passion and emotion on all sides.
"My personal views on the subject of marriage have been shaped by myown experience, tradition and upbringing. But as Governor of NewHampshire, I recognize that I have a responsibility to consider thisissue through a broader lens.
"In the past weeks and months, I have spoken with lawmakers,religious leaders and citizens. My office has received thousands ofphone calls, letters and emails. I have studied our current marriageand civil union laws, the laws of other states, the bills recentlypassed by the legislature and our history and traditions.
"Two years ago, we passed civil unions legislation here in NewHampshire. That law gave same-sex couples in civil unions the samerights and protections as marriage. And in typical New Hampshirefashion, the people of this state embraced civil unions and agreed weneeded to continue our tradition of opposing discrimination.
"At its core, HB 436 simply changes the term 'civil union' to 'civilmarriage.' Given the cultural, historical and religious significance ofthe word marriage, this is a meaningful change.
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"I have heard, and I understand, the very real feelings of same-sexcouples that a separate system is not an equal system. That a civil lawthat differentiates between their committed relationships and those ofheterosexual couples undermines both their dignity and the legitimacyof their families.
"I have also heard, and I understand, the concerns of our citizenswho have equally deep feelings and genuine religious beliefs aboutmarriage. They fear that this legislation would interfere with theability of religious groups to freely practice their faiths.
"Throughout history, our society's views of civil rights haveconstantly evolved and expanded. New Hampshire's great tradition hasalways been to come down on the side of individual liberties andprotections.
"That is what I believe we must do today.
"But following that tradition means we must act to protect both theliberty of same-sex couples and religious liberty. In their currentform, I do not believe these bills accomplish those goals.
"The Legislature took an important step by clearly differentiatingbetween civil and religious marriage, and protecting religious groupsfrom having to participate in marriage ceremonies that violate theirfundamental religious beliefs.
"But the role of marriage in many faiths extends beyond the actual marriage ceremony.
"I have examined the laws of other states, including Vermont andConnecticut, which have recently passed same-sex marriage laws. Both gofurther in protecting religious institutions than the current NewHampshire legislation.
"This morning, I met with House and Senate leaders, and the sponsorsof this legislation, and gave them language that will provideadditional protections to religious institutions.
"This new language will provide the strongest and clearestprotections for religious institutions and associations, and for theindividuals working with such institutions. It will make clear thatthey cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply heldreligious principles.
"If the legislature passes this language, I will sign the same-sexmarriage bill into law. If the legislature doesn't pass theseprovisions, I will veto it.
"We can and must treat both same-sex couples and people of certain religious traditions with respect and dignity.
"I believe this proposed language will accomplish both of these goals and I urge the legislature to pass it."