New Hampshire’s Senate passed a bill yesterday to allow gay marriage.

The bill looked set for defeat until an amendment was added to allow clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Couples will also be allowed to keep the words “bride” and “groom” on their marriage licences or use the word spouse instead.

It will now to go Democrat Governor John Lynch, who has not yet signalled whether he will sign it.

Although he has previously voiced opposition to gay marriage, it is expected that he will be under pressure to allow the measure as a Democrat.

The Senate voted 13-11 on a second reading, in favour of the amended version of the bill that was passed in the House last month by a 186-179 vote.

The bill will take effect on January 1st and also recognises gay marriages and civil unions performed in other states.

New Hampshire legalised civil unions in 2007 and couples who had civil unions will become automatically married by January 1st, 2011, with the extra year designed to allow them time to arrange a formal ceremony.

If Governor Lynch passes the bill, New Hampshire will become the fifth US state to allow gay marriage after Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont.