New Hampshire became the latest state to allow civil unions Thursday, giving gay couples access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
Gov. John Lynch signed the legislation that also recognizes legal same-sex unions from other states.
"We in New Hampshire have had a long and proud tradition taking the lead in opposing discrimination," Lynch said. "Today that tradition continues."
Legislators who gathered for the bill signing packed the governor's chambers and overflowed into an adjoining sitting room. Attendees snapped photos and burst into applause as Lynch signed his name.
"I've listened and I've heard all the arguments," said Lynch, a Democrat. "I do not believe that this bill threatens marriage. I believe that this is a matter of conscience and fairness."
Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among those attending. Although his consecration in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church divided the worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs, Robinson and his longtime partner plan to take advantage of civil unions.
"This is not a radical departure," Robinson said of the bill. "This is a real confirmation of what New Hampshire has always been about: the freedom of its own citizens and fairness for everyone."
Robinson said he will not direct Episcopal priests in the state to bless same-sex unions but will let priests decide that individually. Such blessings have been another divisive issue for Episcopalians and the Anglican union.
Among the U.S. states, Massachusetts alone recognizes gay marriage. Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, California and Washington state allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships, and Oregon will join the list with New Hampshire in January. Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs.
From The Associated Press