New Hampshire passes gay rights bill

New Hampshire passed landmark legislation recently that would extend basic civil rights to its gay and lesbian citizens, putting it on the brink of becoming the 10th state to offer such protections.

The state Senate voted 13-9 May 6 to amend its existing civil rights law to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. The state House passed the measure March 18 by a vote of 205-125. Both chambers are Republican-controlled. Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is expected to sign the bill.

"New Hampshire is on the brink of joining the nine states that already treat their gay and lesbian citizens equally," said Elizabeth Birch, HRC's executive director. "But in all the other states, gay people have no legal recourse if they are discriminated against merely because of their sexual orientation."

No federal law protects Americans from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The last state to pass a civil rights bill covering sexual orientation was Rhode Island, in May 1995. The other states that currently include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination laws are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin.

"This is an historic day for civil liberties in New Hampshire," said Claire Ebel, the executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, which lobbied intensely for the measure with the Citizens Alliance for Civil Rights and the New Hampshire Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Rights. "I was so happy I cried."

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