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More than 5,000 sign up to testify on gay marriage bill in House

By Star-Advertiser staff

POSTED: 10:09 a.m. HST, Nov 01, 2013

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he is pleased with how public testimony on a gay marriage bill is being handled after state House lawmakers reconvened a hearing Friday morning and vowed to hear from the 5,181 people who signed up to speak.

"The measure of our democracy is our commitment to it and if that involves a great length of time, that means a lot of people want to participate," Abercrombie said. "I do not think that anyone can site a failing or a shortcoming in the Legislature, because the Legislature is giving every effort to try not only to comprehend and understand what people's views are and positions are, but (figure out) how they can translate that into legislation that will honor our Constitutional obligations."

Rep. Karl Rhoads, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said people who are not present today when their names are called will have to wait until the end to testify but that he would allow them to speak.

"It's the same thing as voting," Abercrombie said. "(If) everybody's in line by six o'clock or eight o'clock, or whatever the time is, gets to vote. ... They set the time, everybody came, they signed up, they're going to be heard. That's democracy. I'm quite content with it."

Rhoads announced the plan for handling testimony after complaints from House lawmakers who oppose the bill that the committee was skipping over people who were not in the state Capitol auditorium when the hearing reconvened at 8:30 a.m.

"I'd like to finish the hearing this century," he told colleagues.

Rhoads and Rep. Sylvia Luke, the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, had announced shortly after midnight -- after 14 hours of testimony -- that the meeting would recess until 8:30 a.m. after initially indicating their preference to continue with testimony.

During a brief recess Friday morning, when tensions in the audience were high, Rep. Marcus Oshiro stood at the back of auditorium and told people that they had a First Amendment right to speak and petition their government.

Oshiro complained that no public notice was given that the hearing would reconvene, so as many as 3,000 people might not know they were supposed to return to the state Capitol in the morning.

"This is not right as far as the public hearing process," Oshiro shouted, "that's what I'm voicing."

Oshiro told the audience that House rules have the effect of law: "Whether you are for or against this measure, you need to know the rules that you have!"

Oshiro later told reporters that House leaders should follow both the spirit and the letter of the public notice requirement.

"Either in the court of law, or in the court of public opinion, there's that taint," he said. "And that's what we're trying to avoid because if you really want to do justice to this issue and this measure, then you need to afford all due process, procedural requirements to the `T.'

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said the hearing on Thursday was properly noticed and that the announcement to recess until the morning was not in violation of any procedure.

House lawmakers who oppose the bill -- and some of those who say they are undecided, like Oshiro -- have deliberately sought to slow the process.

Late Thursday, a few House lawmakers and other opponents of the bill appealed to people to come to the Capitol before midnight so they could sign up to testify and extend the hearing longer.

A few hundred people arrived at the Capitol in the hours before midnight to sign up.

Abercrombie said he remains confident that a vote will eventually be taken, and that a bill he feels confident in signing will land on his desk. He is also not concerned that more than a majority of the testimony seems so have been from people against same-sex marriage. 

"You don't measure, you never measure, the quality or the content of testimony by numbers," Abercrombie said. "If a Tom Paine or a Thomas Jefferson or a Martin Luther King Jr. or an Abraham Lincoln, a Fannie Lou Hamer at the democratic convention in the 1960s, stands up and is able to give you an insight that you did not previously comprehend -- it doesn't matter whether there's 10,000 views in another direction if that one strikes home as giving an insight or a perspective that didn't exist before."

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