A gay marriage bill that includes the religious protections sought by Governor John Lynch is expected to return for debate next week in the New Hampshire Legislature.

Senators agreed on Wednesday to negotiate a compromise with the House on the bill, opening the possibility of a return to debate on the issue as early as June 3.

The Democratically-controlled Legislature passed a final gay marriage bill earlier this month. Governor Lynch surprised supporters on both sides by agreeing to sign the bill into law so long as lawmakers strengthened language that protected churches and their workers.

Opponents howled, calling Lynch a turncoat; they said he had broken his promise to protect marriage.

Lynch, a Democrat, had previously said he believed marriage was between a man and a woman, but refused to comment on whether he would veto the bill.

Last week, senators approved a gay marriage bill that included the new religious protections but House members balked at the idea, defeating the bill along a thin 188 to 186 vote. House lawmakers refused to kill the bill for the session and voted 207 to 168 to ask the Senate for a compromise.

Democratic senators also defeated another attempt on Wednesday by Republican senators to put the question before voters in a nonbinding referendum.