CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Gov. John Lynch said Thursday he will sign legislation establishing civil unions for gay couples in New Hampshire.
``I believe it is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination,'' Lynch told The Associated Press.
New Hampshire would become the fourth state to adopt civil unions, following Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey. Massachusetts established gay marriage.
Lynch had previously declined to take a public position on civil unions, though has supported expanding health benefits to same-sex partners of state workers. He came under fire from both sides for not weighing in _ especially after a delay last week of the Senate vote on the House-passed bill.
The Senate votes next week, and Lynch said he is confident the legislation will pass. It would authorize civil unions beginning next year.
Asked why he opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions, Lynch said, ``I still think marriage is between a man and a woman, but this prevents discrimination.''
Fergus Cullen, the state Republican Party chairman, wasn't happy with the Democratic governor's decision.
``The Democrats are going too far, too fast, and Governor Lynch is going along with them,'' Cullen said. ``These are not the actions of a moderate governor.''
Democratic state Rep. Bette Lasky disagreed.
``It's never going too far when you give people their rights,'' she said, ``and I honestly believe that the majority of people in this state want to do just that and do not want to discriminate.''
New Hampshire will hold the earliest presidential primary next year, and candidates have been visiting the state regularly. Lynch said he doubts the enactment of civil unions would have any effect on the primary campaign.
At least one presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, issued a statement commending Lynch and the Legislature ``for their commitment and support for the civil rights of gays and lesbians.''