Hawaii House panel advances bill

A Hawaii House panel voted Tuesday evening to recommend passage of a marriage equality bill with three amendments. The vote was not announced and could not be clearly discerned from the roll call.

State Rep. Karl Rhoads, chair of the House panel considering the bill, put the final recommended language before the committee members Tuesday afternoon after a recess at the end of a prolonged public hearing. He proposed the committee amend the original bill to include a broad religious exemption, similar to one passed in Connecticut; remove a provision for parental rights of married spouses; and delay the effective date until February. The original effective date was November 18.

Rep. Bob McDermott offered amendment to gut the bill and replace it with language to continue the ban on same-sex marriage, but Rhoads called the amendment out of order.

Earlier, McDermott asked the committee co-chair to call for a five-day recess “so we can go back to talk to our constituents” before voting. But Co-chair Sylvia Luke said she did not have authority to grant that request in the special session.

The vote on the bill came just a few hours after the House panel, made up of judiciary and finance committee members, closed out a five-day marathon public hearing that took statements from more than 5,000 citizens 57 hours, most of whom were opposed to the marriage equality bill.

The bill, which has already passed the senate, now goes to the full House, which is expected to vote on Thursday. Because the House bill was amended from the senate version, the bill will then have to go back to the senate for a concurrence vote before being sent to Hawaii’s pro-gay Governor Neil Abercrombie. (Proceedings are being webstreamed live by Olelo Net.)

The House public hearing appeared to have been orchestrated by local conservative religious groups aimed at stalling the bill’s passage.

A spokesman for the Hawaii Christian Coalition told the Honolulu StarAdvertiser that opponents of the bill hope to show up in large numbers again when the full House takes up the measure.

The presence of so many thousands of citizens –the greatest majority of who were opposed to the marriage equality bill – produced much drama around the legislation. Many of the citizen opponents displayed considerable anger, even slamming their fists on the podium and crying. One man was virtually incoherent. Another, noting that he had forgotten to wear his wedding ring, said heterosexual families, like his own, were to blame for same-sex marriage.

In one of the more dramatic and bizarre moments, the president of Hawaii’s police union told the committee Monday that he would rather die than enforce a marriage equality law. In a rambling, self-contradictory response to questions from McDermott, Tenari Maafala, said he couldn’t enforce the law because of his religious beliefs, but later he chastised state officials for basing their support for the bill only on their beliefs. He said he and others have family members who are gay, “but in Hawaii, we don’t call them gay, we don’t call them mahus [mah-HOOs, Hawaiian term for gay], we call them cousins, brothers, sisters.”

Two of the last three citizens to testify Tuesday evening spoke in support of the marriage equality bill. Both were straight. One was a man who was married to a woman and said he was troubled about being part of the institution of marriage while it discriminates against gays. The other was a mother who said she voted for Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriage but that, subsequently, one of her kids came out and she has changed her position on the issue.

One Response to Hawaii House panel advances bill

  1. wayne says:

    I have 2 observations;
    1.) The House Committees paid due attention to the religious liberty clause of the first amendment, both in making certain that the proposed law did not infringe upon religious liberties and in protecting all of us from the blatant attempts to establish Christianity as the official religion of the state;
    2.) The extended hearing gave an opportunity to Christians to make fools of themselves and their religion and they seized on it with vigor!

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