Hawaii Senate Leaders: We'll Accept Gay Marriage Bill

Same-sex marriage legislation is expected to smoothly pass the Hawaii Legislature Tuesday and head to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his expected signature.

Clayton Hee, chairman of Senate Judiciary and Labor and the key legislator behind Senate Bill 1, told reporters Saturday that he did not expect a drawn-out Senate floor session along the lines of what happened this week in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

"That simply is not how we conduct ourselves," Hee said of the Senate, adding that he was not aware of any plans to "filibuster" or block SB 1.

Hee said the enactment of same-sex marriage would be a "very significant moment" in not only his career in public office, which began in 1982, but in his lifetime. Although Hawaii is not the first state to legalize gay marriage, Hee said the "national discussion" on the issue began here in 1990 with the Baehr v. Lewin lawsuit.

"These things take time," he said.

Hee said the Senate and attorneys had already done preliminary work on the amended version of SB 1 when it passed late Friday. The House draft of the bill expands religious exemptions to allow churches to refuse to hold marriage ceremonies for gay couples, even if they make money by renting facilities for marriages and celebrations.

While the Senate would have preferred the narrower exemption in the original bill, Hee said, SB 1 was mostly about giving gay couples the right to marry, and not about religious exemptions.

He also admitted that there were concerns that SB 1 might have trouble making it through a conference committee process, where appointed senators and representatives work to agree on compromise language. Hee came to that conclusion after conferring with Rep. Karl Rhoads, his judiciary counterpart, who Hee said told him that his House colleagues were "exhausted" and "fatigued" by the lengthy hearings and floor sessions.

"The operative word in this building is 'compromise,'" he said.

Hee dismissed remarks by Rep. Marcus Oshiro and other SB 1 opponents that the Legislature had somehow rushed things. Hee said that it was clear to him that the bill could only be heard in special session, given how much attention and focus was required.

Hee and Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria said security measures employed Friday by the House would similarly be implemented Tuesday by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. Hee said the Senate wants to ensure that Tuesday's proceedings are orderly, civil and respectful.

Meanwhile, opponents are not giving up. On the same day that Hee and Galuteria signaled that the end was in sight for SB 1's passage, sign-wavers stood near the Capitol with a banner that read "God's Marriage = 1 Man and 1 Woman."

Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, emailed supporters, "All those who have opposed this travesty of justice to the people, Let Us Not Forget. Remember, we still have the power of our vote, so let our vote replace our voices which have been ignored. We will have the final vote tally by our representatives on our website soon."

And Rep. Bob McDermott, perhaps the most aggressive of all legislators in opposing gay marriage, sent a letter to the governor warning that same-sex marriage will "immediately be challenged on constitutional grounds" should he make it law.

On the other side of the divide, however, Steven Levinson, a board member of Equality Hawaii
 and Hawaii United for Marriage, had a far different take after Friday's House vote:

"After the longest legislative hearing process in our state's history, we proved today that love is more powerful than fear. In the face of delay tactics, we proved that when we stand together and speak out for justice and equality... Now, we are just one step away from ensuring lasting equality for all ohana. Join us in telling Hawaii Senators that we stand with them in support of the freedom to marry -- and we're counting on them to pass marriage equality next week."

Levinson is the retired Hawaii Supreme Court justice whose opinion in Baehr v. Lewin launched the marriage equality movement in 1993.



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