* House blocks bill by slim two-vote margin
* Exemption for religious institutions sticking point
* Bill faces further debate and possible governor veto
(Adds details, reaction)
By Andrew J. Manuse
MANCHESTER, N.H., May 20 New Hampshire
lawmakers unexpectedly rejected a bill on Wednesday that would
have made the state the sixth in the United States to authorize
The state's Democrat-controlled House of Representatives
voted down the bill in a 188-186 vote, hours after its Senate
approved the legislation 14-10 along party lines. An earlier
version of the bill passed the lower chamber on March 26.
The legislature had been asked to approve language that
would give legal protections, including the right to decline to
marry same-sex couples, to clergy and others affiliated with
That wording was added by Governor John Lynch, a Democrat
who promised to sign the bill if those changes were made.
The House vote against the governor's amendment means the
bill will be sent to a committee that will try to resolve the
differences between the two chambers. It remains unclear how
the governor would respond to any changes to his wording.
Lynch has said he would veto gay marriage if his wording is
State Representative Steve Vaillancourt, a gay Republican
from Manchester, was a leading voice against the amendment
securing religious liberties, saying that the House should not
be "bullied" by the governor.
Vaillancourt said an earlier bill that did not provide
protections to clerics or religious groups was the one that
should have been passed, adding that the amended bill would
allow discrimination to be written into state law.
The earlier bill passed both chambers.
Other House Republicans said they voted against the current
bill because the process did not fairly give a voice to every
citizen who wanted to speak on the issue.
The debate comes five years after the nation's first
same-sex marriages took place in neighboring Massachusetts.
Connecticut last year became the second state to legalize
gay marriage. In April, Iowa and Vermont followed suit. This
month, Maine's governor signed a gay-marriage bill and the New
York State Assembly passed similar legislation.
If the bill had passed in New Hampshire, five out of six
New England states would have authorized legislation
authorizing gay marriage, making tiny Rhode Island, with its
large Roman Catholic population, the region's only hold-out.
(Editing by Jason Szep and Paul Simao)