CONCORD, N.H. - Gov. John Lynch said Thursday he will sign a bill to make his state the sixth to legalize gay marriage as soon as the Legislature makes some changes, which legislative leaders immediately said they would back.
Lynch asked that the already-approved legislation be revised to better protect churches and their employees against lawsuits if their beliefs preclude them from marrying gays. Gay marriage supporters said they do not object.
"Throughout history, our society's views of civil rights have constantly evolved and expanded," Lynch told reporters. "New Hampshire's great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections."
Lynch said he personally opposes gay marriage, but decided to view the issue "through a broader lens."
A gay marriage bill and companion legislation were adopted last week, but had yet to make it the governor's desk. Now, they will be held until the changes proposed by Lynch are approved, said Senate President Sylvia Larsen.
Larsen and House Speaker Terie Norelli predicted the Legislature would act quickly to adopt the changes, perhaps as early as next week.
"I want to thank the governor for his leadership in finding a way that our state can move forward to enact marriage equality and, at the same time, respect religious tolerance," said Norelli, D-Portsmouth.
The bill's main sponsor, state Rep. Jim Splaine, said the bottom line is that Lynch supports marriage equality for gays.
Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, a group supporting gay marriage, approved of Lynch' proposed changes.
"This is language we can support," she said.
Four other New England states _ Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont _ recognize same-sex marriage. Iowa is the other state to legalize gay marriage.
Lynch said he wanted the law modeled on Connecticut's, which he said contains better protections than the proposal adopted by the New Hampshire Legislature. For example, Lynch wants to be sure an organist employed by a church opposed to gay marriage could legally refuse to perform at a gay wedding.
New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu criticized Lynch, a Democrat, for wiggling out of his commitment to traditional marriage.
"Once again, Gov. Lynch has discovered a way to be against something and for it at the same time," Sununu said.
Kevin Smith, executive director of gay marriage opponent Cornerstone Policy Research, said Lynch's proposed changes are a disingenuous attempt to obscure the fact Lynch misled the public into believing he opposed same-sex marriage.