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South Carolina officially bans gay marriage; New Hampshire takes step toward civil unions

SEANNA ADCOX | March 22, 2007 06:41 PM EST | AP


COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina officially banned gay marriage Thursday as legislative leaders ratified a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, moved in the opposite direction, with a state House panel endorsing the creation of civil unions for same-sex couples.

South Carolina was among eight states with gay marriage bans on the ballot last year. The measures passed everywhere except Arizona.

Nearly four out of five South Carolina voters approved the amendment, which reads, "A marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

The state already had a law against same-sex marriages, but proponents said the amendment was needed to prevent judges from opening the door to civil unions, which offer gay couples the legal benefits of marriage but not the title.

Only Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry. Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey allow civil unions, and California has domestic partnerships that offer similar benefits.

In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the passage of civil unions Thursday by a bipartisan 15-5 vote.

"I am very pleased that we have taken this step," said one of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Rep. Marlene DeChane, who is gay.

A vote by the full New Hampshire House is expected next week. The measure also must pass the Senate, where Republican Bob Clegg has proposed legislation for "contractual cohabitation" giving unmarried adults the same legal rights as married couples.

Gov. John Lynch opposes gay marriage but supports providing health care benefits to state workers' same-sex partners. He has not taken a public position on civil unions.

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Associated Press Writer Beverley Wang in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.