(CNSNEWS.com) - Just hours after Vermont Governor Howard Dean signed into law a "civil union" bill that amounts to the legalization of same sex marriages and provides same sex couples with the same state benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen expressed strong opposition to homosexual marriage.
Shaheen, generally considered a liberal Democrat, said, "I believe that marital unions should exist between men and women."
Asked specifically about the Vermont law, Shaheen responded, "I don't support Vermont's law."
Asked if she anticipates a similar bill being introduced in either chamber of the New Hampshire Legislature, Shaheen said, "I haven't heard any interest in that coming forward, so I don't know what will happen in New Hampshire."
Shaheen voiced no direct criticism of Dean, a political ally with who she has made several joint appearances on unrelated issues, including health care. Both governors are also strong supporters of Vice President Al Gore.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Granite State gay rights advocate said he doubted whether a civil union bill, or a similar measure, would have enough support to get through either the New Hampshire House or Senate. But even if it did, he questioned whether Shaheen would sign it.
"There's no doubt she has political ambitions which go beyond the governorship. My sense is she won't do anything to jeopardize those ambitions, no matter how she might feel about same sex marriage....I don't think she wants to find herself looking over her shoulder, in a political sense," the gay rights activist said.
Shaheen, the state's first Democrat governor in more than two decades, has not yet announced her intentions concerning a third two-year term, although friends and political allies insist she will enter the race.
The governor has been heavily promoted as the party's challenger to Senator Bob Smith, who is up for re-election in 2002. Smith could face opposition in the Republican Primary, as a result of his decision to bolt the party, to which he eventually returned.
Among those most frequently mentioned as a challenger to Smith is US Representative John E. Sununu, whose father served as chief of staff under former President George Bush and was a former governor in the Granite State.