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Civil unions bill advances out of Senate committee

By Star-Advertiser Staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:35 p.m. HST, Jan 25, 2011

A civil unions bill substantively similar to a measure vetoed by the governor last year advanced out of a Senate committee today.

Senate Bill 232 passed the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee by a 3-2 vote, after a hearing that lasted just over two hours.

The bill now goes to the Senate floor for the second of three required votes by the full chamber.

Sen. Clayton Hee, committee chairman, sought to keep the hearing moving by limiting testifiers to 1 1/2 minutes each, saying he did not believe anything material could be added to the discussion. 

The proposal in SB 232 is substantively the same as House Bill 444, Senate Draft 1, that Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed last year, calling it same-sex marriage by another name. It would grant same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.

Voting in favor of SB 232 were Hee, along with Sens. Maile Shimabukuro and Les Ihara. Opposing votes were Sens. Mike Gabbard and Sam Slom.

Supporters and opponents packed the Capitol Auditorium for the hearing on SB 232, but the crowd was substantially smaller than last year, when the hearing lasted 18 hours.

Testimony was roughly split.

Advocates said the public had spoken in support of civil unions by electing Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who said he supported such legislation.

Alan Spector, co-chairman of Equality Hawaii, urged lawmakers to consider incorporating elements of SB 231, a similar bill crafted by Abercrombie's policy advisers, gay activists and select lawmakers and written to ensure that the rights extend to applicable health, insurance and tax codes.

Opponents argued that passing civil unions would put the state closer to same-sex marriage and urged lawmakers to instead focus on economic issues.

Former City Councilman Gary Okino, who campaigned against civil unions, said civil unions would "rob children of happiness" of having both a mother and father. Okino lost to Rep. Blake Oshiro, the author and main supporter of civil unions legislation in the House.

A House bill on civil unions has not yet been introduced. Oshiro said he is circulating the bill among colleagues trying to see where support lies and he expects to introduce a measure by tomorrow.



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