"This legislation is a matter of conscience, fairness and of preventing discrimination," said governor's spokesman Colin Manning. "It is in keeping with New Hampshire's proud tradition of preventing discrimination."
Shortly after the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill 14-10 along party lines, one of the state's best-known gay residents told The Associated Press he would use it.
"My partner and I look forward to taking full advantage of the new law," said Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, whose 2003 consecration shook up the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Union of which it is part.
New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont already offer civil unions for gay couples. Neighboring Massachusetts in 2004 became the only state to allow gay marriage.
Unlike other states, there was no active court challenge to push New Hampshire to act on the issue.
In fact, the success of civil unions was an about-face from two years earlier, when a study panel of lawmakers and community leaders recommended New Hampshire giving no meaningful consideration to extending legal recognition to gay couples.
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