While courts have prodded civil union legislation in other states, officials said the vote in New Hampshire signaled a change in attitude. In 2004, New Hampshire reacted to Massachusetts move to allow same-sex marriages by passing a law that would not recognize gay marriages from out of state, according to Reuters.
"As we continue to evolve this discussion, we'll see people not worried so much about the marriage word," State Rep. Jim Splaine, who is openly gay, said, according to the Associated Press. "This is an important difference. This is not marriage. This is civil union. This does nothing to impact anyone's marriage."
Thursday's 14-10 vote allowing the less controversial civil unions fell largely along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.
Democratic Gov. John Lynch has said he would sign the measure, which would give gay couples rights similar to those in the three states that already recognize civil unions -- New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont. New Hampshire's law would take effect Jan. 1.
"This legislation is a matter of conscience, fairness and of preventing discrimination. It is in keeping with New Hampshire's proud tradition of preventing discrimination," Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch, told the Associated Press.
Massachusetts became the only state to recognize gay marriage in 2004. Neighboring Rhode Island allows its residents to legally marry in Massachusetts.
Washington, D.C., Maine, New York, California, Hawaii and Washington offer domestic partner benefits. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has said he plans to introduce gay marriage legislation.
Opponents of the New Hampshire legislation dismissed supporters who said this does not allow gay marriage in the Granite State.
"This creates same-sex marriage. There is no right to marriage in either the New Hampshire constitution or the federal constitution. We don't let blind people drive or felons vote, all for good and obvious reasons," New Hampshire Republican state Sen. Robert Letourneau told the AP.
According to Letourneau and other opponents, they expect a legal challenge to the new law and hope the courts will limit the work of the legislature and governor.