New Hampshire lawmakers hope to ban all same-sex unions

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February 18 2004 12:00 AM ET

A state law banning gay marriages performed in New Hampshire does not invalidate same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, a group of lawmakers says; hence, the group wants to draw a bright line at the border invalidating all same-sex unions. A senate committee was scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on such a bill. "Let's decide what position New Hampshire wants to be in," said Sen. Russell Prescott (R-Kingston), the bill's prime sponsor.

Prescott's bill would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. It also would invalidate same-sex unions that are legal elsewhere. Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, supports the bill and said Friday he supports banning civil unions as well as gay marriage. "It seems to me it's the same thing called by a different name," said Benson.

The group of legislators points to Vermont and Massachusetts as reasons to pass the bill. Vermont allows a domestic-partnership arrangement called civil unions, and the Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled in November that it is unconstitutional to ban gay marriage. Gays will be able to get married in Massachusetts beginning May 17.

In New Hampshire, "we felt we were squeezed in the middle," said Rep. Robert Letourneau, another bill sponsor. Letourneau acknowledged that New Hampshire's existing law doesn't allow gay marriages to take place in the state. "We're not taking anything away from anybody. It's not happening, anyway," said Letourneau (R-Derry). And Benson said the attorney general's office advised him that New Hampshire law already covers gay marriages performed elsewhere. "Marriage already is in the law," said Benson.

But Benson said the law does not expressly forbid civil unions. "I can't tell the difference between the one and the other," he said. Prescott insists the law does contain a loophole that could force the state
to recognize a gay marriage. State law clearly prohibits a man from marrying another man and a woman from marrying another woman. The law also says such marriages are void and incestuous. The law does not, however, explicitly invalidate same-sex marriages if legal in other states.

Letourneau said the bill would make it clear that same-sex unions legal elsewhere are not legal in New Hampshire. "We felt we needed to do that more clearly," he said. The legislature has repeatedly defeated similar measures, most recently in 2000. The house voted 238-128 to reject similar arguments that the law contained a loophole.

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