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N.H. House approves civil union measure

CONCORD, N.H. -- The state House took a historic step yesterday toward joining neighboring Vermont and a handful of other states in approving civil unions for same-sex couples.

The House voted 243 to 129 for civil unions that would give same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Same-sex unions from other states would be recognized if they were legal in the state where they were performed.

The bill was expected to pass, but the debate dragged on for three hours, with opponents throwing out last-minute changes and plenty of lawmakers on both sides wanting to be heard.

One legislator tried to sidetrack civil unions by proposing relationship contracts for unmarried adults. That failed. Another proposed expanding civil unions to any two unmarried people.

The House used a competing bill to legalize gay marriage to launch a study. Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that civil unions would amount to separate-but-equal discrimination.

The civil unions bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican Bob Clegg has proposed legalizing "contractual cohabitation" as an alternative. His bill would give gays and other adults who don't choose to marry the same legal rights as married couples.

Governor John Lynch opposes same-sex marriage but has avoided taking a position on civil unions. "I will weigh in on it, once I make up my mind on it," he said yesterday.