New Hampshire Governor to Sign Marriage Bill, Some Strings Attached

Well this is an interesting development. The New Hampshire Union-Leader is reporting this afternoon that New Hampshire Governor Jim Lynch is almost ready to sign the state’s marriage equality bill, approved by both houses of Congress last month. Governor Lynch released the following statement (excerpted) today.

“I have heard, and I understand, the very real feelings of same-sex couples that a separate system is not an equal system. That a civil law that differentiates between their committed relationships and those of heterosexual couples undermines both their dignity and the legitimacy of their families.

“I have also heard, and I understand, the concerns of our citizens who have equally deep feelings and genuine religious beliefs about marriage. They fear that this legislation would interfere with the ability of religious groups to freely practice their faiths.

“Throughout history, our society’s views of civil rights have constantly evolved and expanded. New Hampshire’s great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections.

“That is what I believe we must do today.

“But following that tradition means we must act to protect both the liberty of same-sex couples and religious liberty. In their current form, I do not believe these bills accomplish those goals.

“This morning, I met with House and Senate leaders, and the sponsors of this legislation, and gave them language that will provide additional protections to religious institutions.

“This new language will provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions. It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles.

“If the legislature passes this language, I will sign the same-sex marriage bill into law. If the legislature doesn’t pass these provisions, 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. “

This is a surprise, to say the least. As I’ve said before, the religious objection business is such a non-issue that I don’t understand why reasonably intelligent people don’t see that the separation between civil marriage and marriages as granted by a religion is just that: A SEPARATION.

But hey, if that’s what it takes, let’s look at the governor’s new language. (I’ve provided links to the referenced RSAs.)

I. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

II. The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members pursuant to RSA 418:5, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society’s free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States and part 1, article 5 of the Constitution of New Hampshire.

III. Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions provided to religious organizations under RSA § 354-A:18.

IV. Repeal. RSA 457-A, relative to civil unions, is repealed effective January 1, 2011, except that no new civil unions shall be established after January 1, 2010.

I’m not a law-talkin’ guy, but this seems to exempt any organization even tangentially connected to a religious institution from recognizing or providing service for anything even remotely connected to a gay couple’s marriage.

Would Governor Lynch’s new language make it legal, for example, for a hospital that gets funding from the Methodist church to not recognize a married lesbian’s rights in end-of-life decisions? Would it become legal for a Baptist adoption agency that gets public funding not to place a child with a married gay couple? If a florist takes a donation from the Knights of Columbus, does that mean they can discriminate against gays?

I’m a cynic by nature. I just can’t kick the feeling that this is a way to give the word ‘marriage’ but not the legal rights and protections associated with the word.

Once the legal eagles assure us that this proposed language wouldn’t do that, I’ll give a cheer for another step toward equality.

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