The state Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a gay marriage bill, shifting the focus of the debate to the state House, where the vote could be closer. The Senate vote was 20 to 4.
Sen. Clayton Hee, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, framed the vote in the historical context of interracial marriage and Hawaii’s decision to legalize abortion.
"This is a defining moment in all of our careers and we should embrace it," Hee told his colleagues.
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, the lone Republican in the Senate, said there was no urgency to hold a special session on gay marriage. He said the issue does not compare to previous special sessions on the Hawaii Superferry or the response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Slom, who believes the public should decide the issue through a constitutional amendment, said the vote is not historic. "Hysteric it may be," he said.
If the House amends the bill, as it likely, it would have to come back before the Senate for review before moving to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.
A joint House committee hearing scheduled for Thursday was expected to keep lawmakers working while trick-or-treaters celebrate Halloween.
House Majority Leader Scott Saiki says it’s likely the chamber will amend the bill to change religious exemptions. The Senate bill currently exempts ministers and other clergy from having to perform gay wedding ceremonies, but not for-profit businesses.
"The House committees recognize that there is still a lot of public concern about the scope of the exemptions," Saiki said.
The Halloween joint hearing between the House judiciary and finance committees is expected to last until midnight, then carry over to Friday if there are still people wanting to testify.
Because of the high public interest, the committees waived a 24-hour deadline on submitting testimony, promising to accept testimony before and during the hearing.
A Senate committee hearing on Monday packed a rotating crowd through a 200-seat basement auditorium, with speakers getting as much as two minutes each to make their case. Even more people watched the hearings unfold on monitors in the Capitol rotunda, and the hearing was carried live on public access television and the websites of TV news outlets.
For the Senate same-sex marriage vote breakdown, check out the Star-Advertiser’s "Political Radar" blog at http://bit.ly/16n6bSV.