Concord, N.H. (AP) - The state House on Thursday voted narrowly to make New Hampshire the third state to allow gay couples to marry.
The bill, which passed the House 186-179, next goes to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Democratic Gov. John Lynch opposes gay marriage but has not said specifically that he would veto it - a position that spokesman Colin Manning reiterated after the vote.
Two years ago, the Legislature approved, and Lynch signed, civil unions for gays, which provide all the rights of marriage, except in name.
Currently, only Connecticut and Massachusetts allow gay couples to marry. The Vermont Senate sent a gay marriage bill to the House this week, but Gov. Jim Douglas says he will veto it if it reaches his desk.
Supporters say it is discriminatory to exclude gays from marriage. Opponents argue marriage is a sacred religious institution that would be cheapened by allowing gays to marry.
Civil unions are not marriage, said Rep. David Pierce, D-Etna. The law should respect and support his life with his partner and their two daughters.
"When my children grow up to be old enough to know what discrimination is, they should not have to learn they were the objects of it," he said.
He said gays should be allowed to marry, just as women won the right to vote and people of different races the right to marry.
"It is separate but equal all over again. Would you volunteer to ride at the back of the bus? Would you volunteer to give up your marriage license for a civil union license?" said Pierce.
Brookline Democratic Rep. Melanie Levesque, who is black and married to a white man, said her marriage was still a crime in Virginia in the mid-1960s.
"We have had a long history of challenging conventional wisdom - the Earth is flat, people from different continents should not marry, people who are the same should not marry," she said.
Republicans who voted against the bill said gay marriage defies nature and could harm children.
Rep. John Cebrowski, of Bedford, said, "You cannot make two similar things into something they were never meant to be." Rep. Laura Gandia, of Litchfield, called it "the most radical redefinition of marriage that can be imposed."
Rep. Nancy Elliott, of Merrimack, said marriage was instituted by God and that "marriage between a man and a woman is perfect and holy."
The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the U.S. Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, had testified in support of allowing same-sex marriage, calling it a matter of fairness.
"I am delighted, because it's clear to me that New Hampshire values one class of citizenship and not two," Robinson said of the House vote. "And I'm delighted that (the bill) threatens people of faith in no way."
The first attempt to pass the bill fell one vote short, but opponents were unable to kill it. The House then reconsidered and passed the measure Thursday.
On Wednesday, the House killed measures to expressly ban gay marriage and to bar New Hampshire from recognizing gay marriages in other jurisdictions as civil unions.
More than 600 New Hampshire couples have entered into civil unions since the state's law took effect last year. The current bill would change the name from civil union to marriage. Federal law does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages.
NH House Approves Bill to Allow Gay Marriage