NEW HAMPSHIRE -- New Hampshire moves to the forefront of America's debate on gay marriage on Wednesday when the state Senate will decide whether to approve a bill to legalize same-sex marriage and send it to the governor.
By a vote of 3-2 on Thursday, New Hampshire's Senate Judiciary Committee said the bill was "inexpedient" to legislate, recommending the full senate defeat it.
The committee's chairman, Senator Deborah Reynolds, said New Hampshire took a major step in legalizing civil unions last year - the fourth state in the country to do so - and needs some time to "build consensus on this issue".
The Democrat joined two Republicans to vote against it.
On Wednesday, the committee's recommendation will get the first vote. Thirteen of the state's 24 senators are needed to kill the bill. If the senate splits at 12-12 or if a majority wants to keep it alive, a motion to pass could be entertained.
The bill, which would redefine marriage to include same-sex couples and make New Hampshire the fifth state in the country where gay marriage is legal, could also end up tabled, where it could remain in political limbo. If it passes, a likely veto by the governor could derail any Granite State gay marriage law.
Though Governor John Lynch has not said whether he would veto the bill, he has expressed opposition to gay marriage in favor of the rights that civil unions provide to gay couples.
Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon said he expects all 10 Republican senators to oppose it.
Democrat support appears mixed. According to the New Hampshire Democratic blog BlueHampshire.com, two Democrats are likely to vote against the bill and a third, Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester was leaning the same way. Three Democrats are undecided and the remaining eight are in favor.
Dean Barker, the BlueHampshire.com blogger who posted the tally, said his poll is based on media reports, constituent contacts and public hearing testimony.
"In New England and in the Northeast, marriage equality is reaching a watershed moment," Barker said. "Seeing the Democratically controlled senate and our Democratic governor run from an issue that is ultimately inevitable is very disheartening for Granite State progressives."
Among New England's six states, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have legalized gay marriage.
In Maine, which has legalized some rights for gay couples, the state Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on a gay-marriage bill on Tuesday, and the full Senate is expected to weigh in on the bill within 10 days, said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights advocacy group.
His group is looking to legislation in New York and New Jersey to advance gay marriage in those states, and is hopeful Rhode Island, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington state and possibly Delaware could be next.
Iowa this month became the only state outside the New England region to legalize gay marriage.
In California, gay marriage advocates are hoping to overturn Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage there, in the state's highest court.
New Hampshire conservative advocates CPR Action said the anti-gay marriage stance will be a winning issue for Republicans in state elections next year.
Its executive director, Kevin Smith, cited studies by the University of Virginia and The Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey that show "children do best when they have a mother and a father."
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