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Bill to allow refusal of service for gay weddings squashed

CONCORD - The House rejected a bill that would have allowed wedding service providers to refuse to perform gay weddings if an individual or business had religious or conscience objections.

Supporters of House Bill 1264 said a person or business should not have to provide services if it is contrary to their religious tenets or would violate their beliefs.

'This should be a very alarming warning,' said the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester. 'It means we are moving into a brave new world. It may not be your ox being gored at the moment, but just wait, it will be.'

Bill opponents said the bill would codify discrimination.

Rep. Barry Palmer, R-Nashua, who was a member of the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, called the bill unconstitutional, illegal, immoral and mean-spirited.

'I have a rough idea of what discrimination is,' he said. 'This bill is illegal by state statute and illegal by federal law.'

The House killed the bill Wednesday by a 246-85 vote.

Under the bill, a business owner or employee would not have to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for a wedding ceremony if they had a religious or conscience objection. The person also would not be legally liable for his or her action.

Bergevin said the bill would protect a person of faith when he or she leaves a house of worship and goes to his or her everyday life.

'If a Jewish caterer wants to refuse to serve pork at a wedding reception,' they would be protected for doing so,' he said.

House Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, said clergy members are protected under the state's gay marriage law.

To allow business or individuals with certain beliefs to refuse to provide services 'would be an extremely slippery slope to be traveling down.'

People have the right to purchase goods and services from whomever they wish, he said. 'No one should ever be able to put up a sign in New Hampshire that says 'Poultry farmers not welcome.''

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