New Hampshire Gov. to Decide on Gay Marriage Bill By Tuesday

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has until next Tuesday to decide the fate of a gay marriage bill that was sent to his desk after final legislature approval was given on Wednesday.

Lynch has not indicated his next move on the same-sex marriage legislation but has said that he believes the word "marriage" should be reserved for the union between a man and a woman.

The Democratic governor can either sign the bill, issue a veto or let it become law without signing it.

"I have a responsibility as governor to do what I think is best for the people of New Hampshire," Lynch said after the House vote. "I will continue to talk with the legislature and with the people of New Hampshire about that bill."

If signed or allowed to become law by Lynch, New Hampshire would be the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. The law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

The state House narrowly approved the Senate version of the measure in a 178-167 vote on Wednesday. The Senate, which passed the legislation last week, amended the House's original bill to distinguish between civil marriages and religious marriages. The Senate version stated that religious ministers cannot be forced to sanction same-sex weddings under the law.

Following the Senate's vote of the bill, Lynch had indicated that the state's civil union laws were sufficient, saying the laws addressed the fundamental issue of "providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples."

"To achieve further real progress, the federal government would need to take action to recognize New Hampshire civil unions," he stated last week.

A recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center Poll found that 55 percent of state residents support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, while 39 percent oppose it. The poll, which surveyed 491 voters from April 13 to 22, was sponsored by the New Hampshire Freedom of Marriage Coalition, which supports same-sex marriage.

Those results contradict that of another poll by Cornerstone Policy Research, a statewide conservative pro-family organization, that showed 64 percent of New Hampshire residents in favor of keeping the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

CPR and the National Organization for Marriage are urging Lynch to veto the measure in a new television ad which launched on Wednesday.

That same day, Maine became the fifth state to legalize gay marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont.

Like Lynch, Maine Gov. John Baldacci didn't commit to signing the bill and favored civil unions over gay marriage. But within the hour of the Senate's passage of the legislation, Baldacci decided to sign the bill, saying "a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

Opponents are in the process of organizing a campaign under Maine's people's veto law to force a repeal referendum.

The National Organization for Marriage is also working in Maine to oppose gay marriage. On Thursday, the group announced it will devote staff, volunteers and resources to the Maine Marriage Coalition to push for a People's Veto.

Around 55,000 signatures must be submitted in September to put the issue to a statewide vote later this year.