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Gay N.H. bishop to make union official

Civil_unions The Rev. V. Gene Robinson became the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. Now, he and his partner want to be among the first gay couples in New Hampshire to officially unite under a soon-to-be-signed civil unions law.

New Hampshire is set to become the nation's fourth state to offer civil unions for gay couples after legislation approved by the state Senate on Thursday was sent to Gov. John Lynch, who has said he would sign it.

"I think this moves us one step closer to the American promise to all its citizens of equality under the law," Robinson told The Associated Press. "My partner and I look forward to taking full advantage of the new law."

Robinson, 59, was elected as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire four years ago, a move that made him a household name but also divided the Anglican community. Earlier this year, Anglican leaders demanded the U.S. denomination step back from its support of gays or risk losing its full membership in the world Anglican fellowship.

Robinson said his long journey began as a boy in Kentucky when he found he was not attracted to women. As an adult, he spent two years in therapy seeking a "cure" for his homosexual urges.

He told his girlfriend, Isabella, about his struggles, but they married anyway in 1972, moved to rural New Hampshire and had two daughters. Robinson eventually realized he would not change and the two divorced.

"The hardest thing is coming out to yourself. You've internalized the same homophobia as the rest of the culture," he said in an interview four years ago.

Soon after the divorce, Robinson met Mark Andrew, who was working for the Peace Corps in Washington. A year and a half later, the two settled in Weare, where Andrew began accompanying Robinson to his daughters' after-school activities.

The two have been together for 18 years now, and Robinson has said they would marry if they could. Andrew, 53, is a state health care administrator.

To many, Robinson has become a symbol of progress. He was welcomed two years ago at New York's gay pride parade by marchers and spectators who reached out to touch his hand, cheered, cried and thanked him.

Robinson praised New Hampshire's move toward civil unions but said more needs to be done. In particular, he said gay couples should have full civil legal rights under federal law.

"I don't think it will happen until we get several more states," he said. "It doesn't have to be a majority, but it has to be a significant number embracing full marriage rights until we can expect that at the federal level."

So far, three states offer civil unions: New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. Massachusetts in 2004 became the only state to allow gay marriage. Washington, Maine, California, New York City and Washington D.C., recognize domestic partnerships, and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer this week pledged to introduce gay marriage legislation.

Robinson predicted gays would have full equality in 20 years, and he attributed the gains to gays being open about their homosexuality.

"Fifteen to 20 years ago, most Americans would have told you and been reasonably honest that they did not know a gay or lesbian. Now, there's not a family left, or a co-worker, that doesn't know someone," he said.

Photo: Cheryl Senter / AP Photo

People listen as the N.H. state Senate votes on the Civil Unions Bill at the State House in Concord, N.H. Thursday, April 26, 2007. A bill authorizing civil unions for gays cleared its last hurdle Thursday in New Hampshire, the first state to embrace same-sex unions without a court order or the threat of one.
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