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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 36
Hawaii on the brink - Governor initiates special session to pass marriage equality bill
Section One
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Hawaii on the brink - Governor initiates special session to pass marriage equality bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Hawaii's governor, Neil Abercrombie, said on September 9 that he will call his state's legislature into special session to act on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The session will begin October 28.

If legislators move quickly and efficiently, Abercrombie said, they could pass a bill in four or five days. According to state Attorney General David Louie, Hawaii could begin issuing licenses and conducting wedding ceremonies as early as November 18.

The bill is the culmination of 20 years of discussion, Abercrombie told reporters during a news conference at the Hawaii State Capitol Building in Honolulu.

'Every variation on a view with regard to the issue of marriage and equitable treatment for those engaged in marriage has been aired, has been analyzed, has been discussed,' Abercrombie said. 'No one has been left out or has been marginalized in the process to this point.'

The bill contains a generous religious exemption, in hopes of neutralizing - or at least minimizing - objections from faith institutions.

PROMPTED BY DOMA RULING
Abercrombie said he wanted to call a special session, rather than allow legislators to consider the issue in their next regular session in 2014, in part because of implications on taxes for this year.

'There are serious, deep and wide-ranging consequences,' Abercrombie said.

Hawaiian supporters of marriage equality stepped up their efforts after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 in June. One ruling granted federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states where Gay marriage is legal.

Abercrombie has been considering a special session since the rulings. He met privately last week with Democratic lawmakers in the House about the issue.

SUCCESS NOT GUARANTEED
Hawaii's legislative chambers are both overwhelmingly Democratic. Only one state senator among 25 is Republican, while Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House 44-7.

Hawaiian House Speaker Joseph Souki told reporters that despite the heavily Democratic House membership, the vote would be tight.

Abercrombie said he could not be certain until the votes come, but he believes the bill has enough support to pass. He said it likely would not pass without the religious exemption.

'We're trying to keep from imposing one set of views on each other that would end up with conflict and confrontation,' he said. 'We think that this bill achieves that delicate balance.'

Opponents of equality are also preparing for the special session. Catholic Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu sent an urgent appeal to parishioners to speak to lawmakers, while the Hawaii Family Forum, Hawaii Christian Coalition, and Concerned Women for America in Hawaii pledged to throw all their resources into the fight against the marriage bill.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Hawaii actually touched off the national debate on same-sex marriage in 1990 when three same-sex couples asked county clerks for marriage licenses and were refused. They then sued the state for discrimination based on gender.

In 1998, Hawaii voters blocked courts from enacting marriage equality by passing a constitutional amendment saying that only the state legislature could legalize same-sex marriage.

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