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Hawaii House Advances Same-Sex Marriage Bill, Sets Final Vote For Friday

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Neither rain nor darkness deterred the crowds in the Capitol Rotunda from making their voices heard as state lawmakers worked inside the House chambers until late Wednesday before taking another step toward legalizing gay marriage in Hawaii.

After 11 hours of emotional floor speeches and failed attempts to have the issue put on the ballot, the House passed Senate Bill 1 on second reading by a vote of 30 to 18 (three members' absences were excused). The decision brings the measure to its third reading, set for 10 a.m. Friday. From there, the bill returns to the Senate for its consideration.

Supporters who rallied in the rotunda erupted in applause, hugs and cheers for "marriage equality" after the vote was announced. At the same moment, several dozen opponents — their crowd again far bigger — began chanting "let the people vote," urging lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot.

The overall numbers were far fewer but the tension between the two sides was more palpable than at any time during the special session, now in its second week. The two groups formed right next to each other, illuminated by the Capitol lights and TV news crews as a handful of lawmakers and staff members watched from the floors above.

But for all the noise, the scene remained relatively civil, perhaps because of the presence of several armed sheriff's deputies.

People protest outside the House chambers as others listen to the floor debate on Senate Bill 1, Nov. 6, 2013.

Reflecting the tremendous interest in same-sex marriage — for and against — the line to the House viewing gallery encircled the rotunda well before 10 a.m. when Wednesday’s session started. Those lucky enough to gain entrance into the chambers were advised not to leave, as others were eager to take their place.

Inside, the audience — made up mostly of anti-SB 1 folks — rose and applauded when lawmakers like Democrat Sharon Har entered the floor or Republican Richard Fale waved from his seat. Then they sang Hawaii Ponoi.

Vice Speaker John Mizuno reminded the audience more than once that they should heed House rules and not disrupt the proceedings. In fact, they had been given small slips of paper by House staff as they entered the gallery that read, “Disruption of these proceedings is in violation of the Rules of the House, and Hawaii State law.”

Shortly after gaveling the session in, the House recessed for more than two hours. Gradually, audience members, including children, grew restless; they were not allowed a bathroom break. “Let the people pee!” some joked.

But it soon became serious business.

House Democrats emerged from caucus and resumed floor deliberations. The introduction of floor amendments began by members opposed to SB 1. They were led by Marcus Oshiro, who seemed to relish his role as a mini-filibusterer, Hawaii’s version of Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.

The first few floor amendments included putting the same-sex marriage question before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment and another proposal to delay same-sex marriage until the regular session begins in January.

One by one each amendment was shot down by voice votes or roll call, but not before Oshiro and other SB 1 opponents, including Har, Fale, Gene Ward, Bob McDermott and Jo Jordan spoke in support.

"I'm tired ... but I hear those people still out there," McDermott said. "They're begging us."

Outside in the rotunda, the protests only grew louder as more amendments were put up, discussed and dismissed. The second reading of bills is usually a quick procedural session. But Wednesday’s marathon hearing came on the heels of an almost 57-hour joint committee meeting on the bill held over five days.

On the basement level, Rep. Tom Brower momentarily peeked out from House chambers and found himself confronted with SB 1 opponents carrying signs.

"You want one civil war, brah?" a protester asked him.

Brower, who voted for the amended version of SB 1 Tuesday in committee, smiled sheepishly and disappeared back into the chamber, safe from the frustrated crowd.

Arguably the most emotional moment of the evening came when Jordan, an openly gay Democrat who represents the west side of Oahu, explained why she was voting no on something she acknowledged she could personally benefit from.

"I personally believe I should have the right," she said, but added that she couldn't support the current language in the bill.

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