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.

"My partner and I look forward to taking full advantage of the new law," Robinson told The Associated Press.

Robinson, 59, was elected the ninth Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire four years ago, making him the church's first openly gay bishop. His elevation divided the Anglican community.

Robinson's partner of 18 years, Mark Andrew, 53, is a state health care administrator. They live in Weare, a small town west of Concord.

Robinson said his long journey to where he is today 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 sexual struggles, but they married anyway in 1972, moving to rural New Hampshire and having 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 Andrew who was then 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.

In 1988, Robinson became assistant to New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner. He lost elections for bishop in Newark, N.J., in 1998 and in Rochester, N.Y., in 1999.

Robinson said he feared for his job when he first told Theuner he was gay. But when he decided to seek elevation to bishop, he did not waver in the face of calls for him to back away.

"God and I have been about this for quite a while now and I would be really surprised if God were to want me to stop now," Robinson said in response to one such call.

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 has said before that he would marry Andrew if he could.

"I think this moves us one step closer to the American promise to all its citizens of equality under the law," he said. "New Hampshire understands fairness and has acted on that value,"

But Robinson 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."

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.