Same-sex marriage has been legal in the U.S. state of New Hampshire since January 1, 2010, based on legislation signed into law by Governor John Lynch on June 3, 2009. The law provided that civil unions, which the state had established as of January 1, 2008, would be converted to marriages on January 1, 2011, unless dissolved, annulled, or converted to marriage before that date.

Civil unions

Following the first same-sex marriages in Massachusetts in May 2004, New Hampshire established a 14-member commission to consider the question of civil recognition of same-sex relationships. The group, composed of legislators, politicians, and activists, reported its findings in November 2005. By a 7-to-4 vote it recommended modifying the State Constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions, reinforcing the state's statutory definition of marriage to prevent the judiciary from finding a constitutional requirement that same-sex couples be allowed to wed. Their report opposed as well the idea of civil unions like those recognized in Vermont in July 2000. The commission proposed instead certificates that would guarantee certain rights like hospital visitation, but no financial benefits. The certificates would be available to siblings, parents, and children as well. The commission members who dissented said it spent too much time hearings attacks on the morality of homosexuality. The chairman, Tony Soltani, a Republican member of the state House of Representatives, said; "If we redefined marriage, we'd be tarred and feathered, but if we give them some rights, it will be accepted." He said homosexuality could not be compared to race, because it is an "acquired behavior" or a "combination of both nature and nurture." He added: "I know it's not a long-term solution, but it is something a child can point to and say, my representatives say I'm OK, and I'm not a freak."[1][2]

Democrats became the majority party in the New Hampshire State Legislature in the 2006 general election. Both Democratic and Republican legislators proposed legislation to grant same-sex couples greater civil rights. The proposals ranged from allowing a couple to enter into a "contractual cohabitation," a "civil union," a "spousal union," or a same-sex marriage. Governor John Lynch opposed same-sex marriage, but indicated that he was receptive to discussing civil unions as a means of granting certain rights to same-sex couples.[3]

In early 2007, the Legislature briefly considered a bill authorizing same-sex marriage until Democratic leaders assigned it to a study committee.[4] On April 4, 2007, by a vote of 243 to 129, the New Hampshire House passed a civil unions bill that gave partners in same-sex civil unions the same "rights, responsibilities and obligations" as heterosexual married couples.[5][6][7] Lynch took no public position until April 19, when he said that he would sign legislation establishing civil unions for same-sex couples because he believed "it is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination."[4][8] On April 26, 2007, the New Hampshire Senate approved the civil unions bill 14-10 on a party line vote.[9][10][11] On May 31, 2007, Governor John Lynch signed the civil unions bill into law,[12][13] making New Hampshire "the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one."[11] The law took effect on January 1, 2008.[14] Licenses for civil unions became available on December 10, 2007,[15][16] allowing civil unions to be formalized in the very early hours of January 1, 2008. Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said, "As far as we're concerned, everything is on schedule."[15]

The first civil unions were formed throughout New Hampshire just after midnight on January 1, 2008. The largest gathering occurred on the steps of the State House in Concord. An estimated 40 couples participated as 200-300 friends, family and onlookers observed. The event drew one protester who "quietly handed out a statement calling all sex outside of heterosexual marriage a sin".[17]

Under the New Hampshire civil unions law, same-sex civil unions or marriages conducted in other jurisdictions were recognized as civil unions in New Hampshire.[18] Representative Maureen Mooney introduced legislation to repeal that portion of the civil unions bill, but her proposal was deemed inexpedient to legislate, a legislative procedure equivalent to not passing the bill out of committee.[19][20][21]


At the end of 2008, after the law had been in effect for one year, approximately 600 civil union licenses had been issued by the state, while approximately 8,700 marriage licenses were issued by the state during the same period.[22][23]

Civil unions in practice

Though the civil union law intended to provide "all the rights and ... obligations and responsibilities provided for in state law that apply to parties who are joined together,"[24] they actually entailed a more limited set of benefits and limitations.[25][26][27] The benefits included:

The limitations associated with civil unions included:


In 1987, New Hampshire modified its statutes to make same-sex marriages invalid.[28]

On March 18, 2009, the New Hampshire House of Representatives Judiciary Committee sent a same-sex marriage bill, HB 436, to the floor of the House without a recommendation following a tied 10-10 vote.[29] On March 26, the House voted 182-183, but after a motion to reconsider the first vote, the measure passed 186-179.[30][31][32] On April 23, the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 3-2 recommended that the full Senate defeat the bill, but a week later the Senate approved an amended version of the bill 13-11.[33] The amended bill passed the House on May 6, 2009. Governor John Lynch had yet to take a position on the legislation[34][35] and had five days to exercise his veto.[36] The bill recognized out-of-state civil unions as marriages. Couples who had entered into civil unions would be able to apply for a marriage license, however if they did not apply for a marriage certificate their civil unions would automatically be converted to marriages on January 1, 2011.[37]

On May 14, Lynch, though personally opposed to same-sex marriages, said he would sign the bill provided it contained increased protections for churches against lawsuits if they refuse to marry same-sex couples.[38][39] Legislative leaders indicated on the same day that they would allow the changes.[40] On May 20, 2009, the Senate passed the changes 14-10 along party lines, but the House unexpectedly failed to agree later in the day by a vote of 188-186.[41] Opponents in that body tried to kill the bill, but failed 173 to 202.[42] The House then voted 207-168 to ask the Senate to negotiate a compromise.[42] On May 29, the two chambers reached a compromise with some minor changes that the Governor approved.[43] The revised legislation was approved 14–10 by the Senate and 198–176 by the House on June 3 and signed by the Governor shortly thereafter.[44][45][46] Lynch was the second governor in the United States to sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, the first being John Baldacci of Maine. The new definition of marriage in New Hampshire became:[47]

Marriage is the legally recognized union of 2 people. Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.


By the spring of 2012, 1,900 same-sex couples had married in the state.[48]

From 2010 to 2013, approximately 2,329 same-sex couples wed in New Hampshire.[49]

Transition from civil unions to marriage

From January 1, 2010, no new civil unions were established in the state.[50] Parties to a valid civil union before that date were able to have their marriages solemnized, provided they met the legal requirements of the state marriage laws. Additionally, such persons in civil unions before January 1, 2010 were able to record their civil unions with the town or city clerk who recorded the civil union and receive a marriage license, with no additional fee or solemnization required. A civil union entered into before January 1, 2010, that had not been dissolved, annulled, or transformed into a marriage, was converted to a marriage on January 1, 2011.[37]

Repeal efforts

In 2010, the Legislature considered two repeal proposals, a bill to repeal both the same-sex marriage law and the state's 2007 civil union law and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.[51][52][53] The New Hampshire House defeated both of them on February 17, 2010.[54][55][56]

On October 25, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 for a bill repealing same-sex marriage and establishing civil unions far more limited than the state's earlier civil unions. The new civil unions would not be covered by the state's anti-discrimination law and no one would be required to recognize them as the equivalent of opposite-sex marriages. The bill's effect on same-sex marriages already performed in the state was disputed.[57] In January 2012, Representative David Bates, the principal sponsor of the legislation,[58] said the bill would be the first legislative repeal of same-sex marriage in the U.S.,[59] but Governor John Lynch announced he would veto any repeal of the state's same-sex marriage statute.[60] New Hampshire Republicans were generally identified with the repeal effort and they controlled the 400-member House by a 3-1 margin. The Nashua Telegraph termed the failure of the repeal effort in March 2012 "a shocking setback". The House defeated a series of attempts to modify the bill to attract moderate support by providing same-sex couples with an alternative to marriage. Bates' own amendment to delay the bill's effective date until March 31 so a non-binding referendum on the issue of same-sex marriage could be held in November failed on a vote of 188-162,[48] with 96 of the chamber's 293 Republicans voting against the referendum.[61] Opposing the referendum, Representative Shawn Jasper, then the House Deputy Majority Leader, said: "We are the most representative body in the country, if not the world. If we feel the need to go to our constituents and ask them a question, we are clearly in trouble."[48] On March 21, 2012, the House defeated the bill on a vote of 211 to 116.[62]

Democrat Maggie Hassan, a supporter of same-sex marriage, ran against the Legislature's record and won election as governor in November 2012,[63] and Democrats took control of the House.[64]

Later legislation

For several years following the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Hampshire, the state's Uniform Marriage Recognition Law invalidated any marriage contracted in New Hampshire by non-residents if their intended state of residence would not recognize the validity of the marriage if contracted within its own jurisdiction.[65] On July 10, 2014, Governor Hassan signed legislation designed to clarify the status of same-sex marriages. It established that same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are recognized by New Hampshire as valid from the date they were contracted, even if they pre-dated New Hampshire's recognition of same-sex marriage; that New Hampshire recognizes the same-sex marriages of non-residents whether or not their home jurisdiction recognizes the marriage; and allows those in civil unions in other jurisdictions to marry in New Hampshire without first dissolving their civil union.[66][67][68]

2018 law changes

In May 2018, the New Hampshire General Court passed a bill to implement a clear minimum age of 16 with no exceptions. This bill also allows same-sex couples to get married at 16; the minimum age for same-sex couples was previously 18. Originally, the bill had a minimum age of 18 for all couples, but it was reduced to 16 in committee.[69][70] On June 18, 2018, Governor Chris Sununu signed the bill into law.[71] The law went into effect on January 1, 2019.

Public opinion

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in New Hampshire
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 311 ? 73% 22% 5%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 432 ? 70% 19% 9%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 369 ? 73% 19% 8%
Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll May 2-May 6, 2015 952 likely voters ? 67% 24% 10%
Public Religion Research Institute April 2, 2014-January 4, 2015 219 ? 75% 19% 5%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20-October 1, 2014 1260 likely voters ± 3% 63% 24% 13%
Public Policy Polling January 9–12, 2014 1,354 voters ± 2.7% 60% 29% 11%
Public Policy Polling September 13–16, 2013 1,038 voters ± 3% 55% 32% 13%
Nelson A. Rockefeller Center April 22–25, 2013 433 registered voters ± 4.7% 55.4% 29.6% 15%
Public Policy Polling May 10–13, 2012 1,163 voters ± 2.9% 57% 35% 8%
Nelson A. Rockefeller Center April 2–5, 2012 403 registered voters ± 4.9% 55.1% 30.9% 14%
Public Policy Polling June 30-July 5, 2011 622 voters ± 3.8% 51% 38% 11%
Nelson A. Rockefeller Center April 11–14, 2011 426 registered voters ± 4.8% 41.5% 42.2% 16.3%
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research January 30-February 3, 2011 622 voters ± 3.9% 59% 34% 7%
University of New Hampshire Survey Center/New Hampshire Freedom to Marry April 13–22, 2009 491 voters ± ?% 55% 39% 6%
University of New Hampshire Survey Center February, 2004 ? ? 55% ? ?
University of New Hampshire Survey Center May 2003 ? ? 54% ? ?

A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted in February 2004, found that 64% of New Hampshire residents opposed a federal constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.[72]

According to a poll, conducted in February 2005 by Research 2000 for the Concord Monitor, 51% of likely voters in the state supported a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.[72]

A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll taken between January 27 and February 6, 2011 found that 62% of New Hampshire residents opposed the new Republican-dominated Legislature's efforts to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage, with only 29% in favor of repeal. In addition, 51% voiced strong opposition to repeal.[73][74]

A poll conducted between January 30 and February 3, 2011 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 63% of residents opposed the bill repealing same-sex marriage, while 29% supported it.[75][76]

A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 80% of respondents supported legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 45% supporting same-sex marriage and 35% supporting civil unions, while only 19% thought that there should be no legal recognition and 1% were not sure.[77]

According to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between September 26 and October 2, 2011, 62% of the state residents were against repealing same-sex marriage, 27% were for.[78][79]

A Voter/Consumer Research poll, conducted on December 11–15, 2011, found that 64% of New Hampshire voters opposed repealing same-sex marriage, 31% supported it.[80]

A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between January 25 and February 2, 2012, found that 59% of New Hampshire voters were against repealing same-sex marriage, 32% were for.[81]

A May 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 85% of respondents supported legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 54% supporting same-sex marriage and 31% supporting civil unions, while only 13% thought that there should be no legal recognition and 2% were not sure.[82]

A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, conducted between August 1 and 12, 2012, found that 61% of New Hampshire voters were against repealing same-sex marriage, 28% were for.[83]

Economic impact

A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study from March 2009 estimates the impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry on New Hampshire's state budget. The study concludes that allowing same-sex couples to marry, as opposed to the old civil union scheme, would result in a net gain of approximately $500,000 each year for the state.[84] This net impact will be the result of savings in expenditures on state means-tested public benefits programs and an increase in meals and room tax revenues from increased wedding-related tourism.

See also


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  2. ^ Wang, Beverly (May 9, 2005). "N.H. gay marriage commission faces obstacles to finish report". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved August 13, 2013.
  3. ^ Liebowitz, Sarah. (March 5, 2007) Gay unions could gain support Concord Monitor. Accessed April 11, 2007.
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  5. ^ N.H. House approves civil union measure
  6. ^ New Hampshire House passes civil union bill
  7. ^ Moskowitz, Eric. (April 5, 2007) N.H. House passes civil unions Concord Monitor. Accessed April 11, 2007.
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  14. ^ Docket of HB437 New Hampshire General Court.
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