Starting the New Year with ‘I Do’: New Hampshire Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages from Midnight
New Hampshire’s gay and lesbian couples are expected to gather throughout the night to ring in the start of the new year with champagne and wedding bells as New Hampshire’s gay marriage law takes effect at midnight.
The law, which was signed by Governor John Lynch in June, 2009, won’t grant gay and lesbian couples any more rights than they currently have under the state’s civil union law, but it will give them equal access to the term “marriage”.
Symbolically this is important, but more than that, when the federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, having access to terms like “marriage” and “spouse” will be helpful from a legal standpoint and could mean that New Hampshire’s married gay and lesbian couples might finally have access to the 1150+ benefits that are given to heterosexual unions but are currently denied gay and lesbian partners.
The New Hampshire gay marriage bill was amended during the legislative process so that it expressly states a religious institution’s right to decline to marry gay and lesbian couples. Religious organizations can also deny couples affiliated services such as wedding photography and the like.
A handful of gay and lesbian couples have said that they will gather just after midnight at the Statehouse in Concord to have their civil marriage ceremony performed, echoing the events of two years ago when many couples journeyed to the Statehouse to have their civil union ceremony at this time in 2008. Claire Ebel, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, will officiate.
The Los Angeles Times has an insightful piece today in which they interview several of New Hampshire’s gay and lesbian residents regarding the new marriage law. Some will marry just after midnight at one of the many events being held to celebrate the law’s coming into effect, while others, who have had various partnership celebrations in the past, such as commitment ceremonies and civil unions, plan to wait until later in the year, preferring to take a little more time to plan their wedding.
The Los Angeles Times notes that New Hampshire’s gay and lesbian couples that were previously joined in civil unions do not actually need to go through a wedding ceremony in order to be married. This is because New Hampshire’s civil unions will be converted into civil marriages by 2011. After December 31, 2010, the state will no longer issue civil union licenses.
Overall, 2009 has been a mixed year for gay marriage. California’s Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 which meant gay marriages would no longer be recognized after they were briefly legalized in 2008 following a court ruling that struck down a previous constitutional ban. A court case will begin in January in which lawyers will argue that Proposition 8 is itself unconstitutional.
Also in 2009, Maine lawmakers approved gay marriage, but then voters decided to block the law at the ballot despite a very strong campaign from gay rights advocates.
Yet, at the same time, District of Columbia’s Council voted to recognize gay marriages from out of state, and in December also chose to allow gay marriages. However, the bill must first clear Congress before it becomes law. Congress are likely to take up the issue early in 2010.
Vermont legislators also legalized gay marriage in 2009, while Iowa’s Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage, finding it unconstitutional. Many conservative Iowans have called for a referendum on gay marriage in 2010, mindful that gay marriage has never won at the ballot. Iowan Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has said that he will not allow any bill that would block gay marriage to come to the floor, however.
As ever, gay marriage remains a hot-topic issue for many, and will no doubt be just as controversial in 2010 as it was in 2009.
All that said, New Hampshire is starting 2010 with a new level of recognition for its lesbian and gay couples, and although this gift is not quite complete while the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains in place, and it will most likely still be in place until 2011 at least, it is a positive way to begin 2010 and to celebrate a new year in which even more steps toward full equality can be made.
Ask legislators to repeal DOMA by supporting the Respect for Marriage Act. Sign the petition today.
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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Jeff Belmonte.