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After decades of discussions, the stage has been set for Hawaii lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Virtually every angle, virtually every variation of a view with regard to marriage and equitable treatment for those engaged in marriage has been aired,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said.
When the legislature convenes in a special session on Oct. 28, lawmakers will consider a bill that would give same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive.
If passed, ceremonies could take place beginning Nov. 18.
“I think this is a big step forward. I think we’re going to have seven weeks of vigorous debate over this issue and hopefully settle it for the first time in 20 years,” said Rep. Chris Lee (D) Kailua, Waimanalo.
The governor has been in private meetings with House members, trying to gauge support. Votes have been very close.
“I think in particular, the religious exemptions are going to be scrutinized. We just want to make sure those are fine-tuned,” said Rep. Scott Saiki (D) McCully, Kakaako, Downtown.
The religious exemptions mean religious leaders and groups do not have to perform ceremonies. The governor says the bill fully respects the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“It did take me by surprise,” Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said.
Mercado Kim thought the governor would ask her when would be a good time for a special session.
She says some lawmakers will be out of town during the session. But the governor says he picked a date that was fairly agreed upon.
The Senate has more than enough votes to pass the bill.
“But the fact that members would be out of town, whether it would affect the vote, certainly would not. But the fact that members feel it’s their responsibility to be here for such a vote,” Mercado Kim said.
Gov. Abercrombie says he hopes support is there to make Hawaii the 14th state to legalize gay marriage.
“But as I say, I’ve been around a long time and that which would seem to be certain sometimes works in a different direction,” Gov. Abercrombie said.
The special session would cost $26,000 and last five days. But the session could last longer, depending on bill amendments and legal challenges.
Hawaii State Constitution, Article I – Bill of Rights
Marriage: Section 23. The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. [Add HB 117 (1997) and election Nov 3, 1998]