New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch on Thursday said he will sign a bill to recognize same-sex "marriages" contracted in the state if religious liberty protections are added to the bill. Backers of the proposal said they would make the requested changes, which would protect individuals and institutions only "in some instances."
Lynch, a Democrat, told reporters he personally opposes same-sex "marriage" but decided to view the issue "through a broader lens," the Associated Press reports.
"Throughout history, our society's views of civil rights have constantly evolved and expanded," Lynch said. "New Hampshire's great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections."
Gov. Lynch said he wanted religious liberty protections modeled on Connecticut. He said he wanted protections in cases such as an organist employed by a church opposed to same-sex "marriage" could legally refuse to perform at a homosexual "wedding."
If the bill is signed into law, New Hampshire would become the sixth U.S. state to give legal marriage licenses to homosexual couples.
House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, thanked the governor for his "leadership" in providing a way for New Hampshire "to move forward to enact marriage equality and, at the same time, respect religious tolerance."
Mo Baxley, executive director of the pro-homosexual "marriage" group New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, said her group could support the language.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which says it does not take a position on same-sex "marriage," praised Gov. Lynch for "taking religious liberty seriously."
"Giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages promises to unleash a host of legal and financial penalties on those who conscientiously object to it, unless states make the effort to enact robust legal protections," Eric Rassbach, National Litigation Director for the Becket Fund, said in a press release.
However, the Becket Fund acknowledged that Lynch’s proposal would not protect small business owners such as an Arizona photographer who faces a fine for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony. The protections reportedly will only cover the solemnization, celebration or promotion of same-sex "marriage."
The Becket Fund said the proposal would protect individuals and institutions "in some instances."
Kevin Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, characterized Lynch’s religious liberty proposal as a "smoke screen" providing cover for his change of opinion.
"There are people with very deeply held convictions on this issue who are now going to have their conscience violated," Smith told the Concord Monitor. He added that the proposed modification "seems like a rather disingenuous attempt on the part of the governor to try and couch his actions today and say it's some sort of compromise. It isn't."
"The folks who are not protected are your individual business owners, caterers, photographers, who now will be forced to provide these services for same-sex weddings," he also said, according to the Boston Globe.
The Associated Press reports that New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu also criticized Lynch, saying: "Once again, Gov. Lynch has discovered a way to be against something and for it at the same time."
In a May 7 statement, Bishop of Manchester John B. McCormack opposed the proposal, saying "We believe that we should be doing all we can as a society to support and protect marriage, which is a union of a man and woman and has been throughout history."
He said the bill would "redefine marriage on the run" with the "slimmest of legislative margins." His comments, made before religious liberty protections were proposed, also emphasized the need to secure religious liberties. Bishop McCormack warned "unintended consequences" of the proposal would lead to "unnecessary confusion, litigation and denial of rights to many people in our state."