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New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize gay marriage on Wednesday (June 3) in part because faith leaders testified that the measure would not impinge on religious rights, according to V. Gene Robinson, the state’s openly gay Episcopal bishop.
When credible Christians, Muslims and Jews advocated for same-sex marriage, it “had a lot of sway with legislators in terms of giving them cover,” said Robinson. “Our message was loud and clear: religious organizations have nothing to fear from civil marriage for same-gendered folks.”
Robinson, who was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, joined his longtime partner in a civil union last year. Under the New Hampshire law, their union will automatically be considered a marriage on Jan. 1, 2010.
“I’m still about 30 feet off the ground, hovering somewhere on high,” Robinson said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
The legislation signed by Gov. John Lynch on Wednesday contains explicit legal protections for religious groups that object to same-gender relationships and makes Rhode Island the only state in New England that does not allow gay marriage.
Robinson said separating the civil and religious aspects of marriage and making clear that religious groups would not be required to sanction same-gender weddings was key to the effort.
“We made sure that our … bill here stated and overstated and restated the fact that no religious liberties would be abridged in the embrace of civil marriage — that no religious institutions would be required to do anything against its own beliefs,” Robinson said. “It largely undercut the argument from the other side.”
Two separate studies released on Wednesday concluded that anti-gay marriage groups relied heavily on religious language to successfully push for ballot initiatives in Michigan in 2004 and California in 2008 that outlawed gay marriage.
“A religious opposition requires a religious response,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and an author of one of the reports.
Robinson said, “I think it’s about emboldening legislators to see people like them who identify as Roman Catholic or American Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran (and) say `OK, this … is clearly a person of faith, so despite what the denomination says as a whole I’ve got a fairly firm piece of ground to stand on here.”
By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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