N.H. legislature passes SSM bill:

State house approval came last week. Today, the state senate voted in favor, 13-11. It's unknown whether the governor will sign or veto the bill, but he has previously said he thinks the state's civil-unions law is good enough and that further progress will require federal recognition.

Protecting religious liberty as a "compromise" position on SSM is gaining traction. The swing vote in the state senate came from a Democrat who just last week voted against the bill in committee, but switched after more protection for religious liberty was added. The amendment, she said, is "respectful to both sides of the debate and meets our shared goals of equality under the state laws for all of the people of New Hampshire." The religious-protection amendment says:

457:37 Affirmation of Freedom of Religion in Marriage. Clergy persons as described in RSA 457:31 or other persons otherwise authorized under law to officiate at a civil marriage shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of their right to free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by part I, article V of the New Hampshire constitution.

(HT: Robin Wilson)

Forcing clergy to officiate at gay weddings is not an issue, as informed advocates on both sides know. Certainly forcing them to do so "in violation of their [constitutional] right to free exercise of religion" has never been on the table. This provision, on its face, restates protection already guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions. It might, I suppose, be interpreted to exempt religious objectors from the otherwise neutral requirement to officiate at any weddings recognized under state law, which might not be an unconstitutional imposition under Employment Div. v. Smith.

But even if it accomplishes that, the provision is narrower than the religious-liberty protection included in Connecticut's SSM bill last week and much narrower than that proposed last week by five prominent religious-liberty advocates. Whether any additional protection is really needed in an SSM bill, as opposed to state and federal antidiscrimination laws, is a separate question.

At any rate, congratulations to gay families in New Hampshire and to those who have been working hard in the state legislature on their behalf.