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State House advances same-sex marriage bill after long session

By Star-Advertiser staff

& Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:14 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2013

Polital Radar: State House vote breakdown on SB1 by representative

The state House advanced the marriage equality bill Wednesday night to a final vote, a key hurdle for the measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry while also expanding a religious exemption beyond what the Senate had approved last week.

Tonight's vote -- 30-18, with three members excused -- came after a sometimes-tense, often-loud hearing as hundreds of protesters just outside the House chamber clamored to be heard.

The House has scheduled a third reading and final vote on the bill starting at 10 a.m. Friday.

Throughout today's nearly 11-hour session, lawmakers voted down proposed amendments by opponents to either delay or postpone the bill, or to strengthen its religious exemptions.

The hearing was often emotional and lawmakers sometimes had trouble hearing each other as the crowds outside in the State Capitol Rotunda chanted and sang practically nonstop throughout the day.

One lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Jo Jordan of Waianae, said on the floor that she would oppose the bill -- despite her thoughts and beliefs and gay marriage potentially benefiting her personally. 

"No, nobody's going to beat me up. Nobody's going to throw me out of my (LGBT) community -- I'm not quite sure of that," Jordan said.

But Jordan said she set aside her beliefs when she listened to five days of testimony during a joint committee hearing and listened with an open heart. Much of spoken public testimony during the hearing came in opposition to the bill. 

"I might vote against something that I personally believe in. I personally believe I should have the right," Jordan said. "You know how hard it is for me to say no? I have to say no." 

The House was considering the bill on second reading today, which was considered a key gauge the degree of support in the chamber.

Now that it has advanced, a final House vote is expected to be taken Friday.

 An attempt by opponents to indefinitely postpone a vote on the bill tonight was rejected in a 30-19 vote just before 7:45 p.m.

After some final discussions, lawmakers took the second-reading vote just before 9 p.m.

Today's House session started after 10 a.m. with a large crowd filling the gallery. Audience members cheered for lawmakers who oppose the bill which would allow same-sex couples to marry but also expands a religious exemption beyond what the state Senate had approved last week.

State House Vice Speaker John Mizuno asked the audience to refrain from outbursts and demonstrations that might disrupt floor action.

After opening the floor session, lawmakers immediately went into recess for more than two hours, with majority members in the Democratic-heavy House meeting in caucus to discuss amendments to the bill.

Crowds of people on both sides of the issue chanted and sang outside the chamber. The session resumed just after 12:30 p.m. as hundreds opponents of gay marriage outside chanted, "Let the people vote!", disrupting the discussion inside the House chamber.

"Excuse me, the door's supposed to be closed," House Speaker Joseph Souki said as he tried to keep the meeting in order.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, a Democrat who has said he has reservations about the bill, proposed an amendment to delay discussion so lawmakers could have more flexibility to review more than 20,000 pieces of written testimony and spoken testimony from more than 5,000 people who signed up.

The amendment was rejected by a voice vote, as were two more amendments that proposed wider religious exemptions, including one that said if any part of the law is struck down in court, the whole gay marriage law would be overturned.

"I do not believe this idea is worth your time," said Rep. Della Belatti, a Democrat who supports gay marriage. She said the expanded exemptions would allow people to discriminate against gay people in many ways.

Another amendment to put the question of same-sex marriage to voters through a constitutional amendment failed in a roll call vote, 28-19 with four members excused.

Rep. Richard Fale, a Republican who pushed for allowing voters to decide the issue, said lawmakers aren't putting their best work forward by pushing the bill through a special session with backroom deals.

"My confidence in this body is shaken. The people's confidence in this body is shaken," Fale said. "We know that this is not the best we can do and we need to go back to work."

After a mid-afternoon recess for lunch, lawmakers considered several more proposed amendments into the evening.

Several proposed amendments introduced by Rep. Gene Ward, a Republican opponent to same-sex marriage, were quickly rejected in voice votes.

Later in the evening, Ward compared the potential impact of legalized same-sex marriage to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Tuesday evening, the House Judiciary and Finance committees agreed to advance the marriage equality bill after an unprecedented hearing that lasted about 56 hours over five days. More than 1,000 of the 5,184 people who had signed up to testify showed up at the state Capitol to speak to lawmakers, and the overwhelming majority were opposed to the bill, mostly for religious reasons.

The religious exemption in the current bill is modeled after Connecticut law, which is considered among the broadest of states that allow gay marriage. Clergy would not be required to perform gay weddings, a right protected by the federal and state constitutions. Religious organizations as well as nonprofits aligned with religious organizations would have an exemption from the state's public accommodations law and could refuse to provide goods, services, facilities or grounds for weddings or wedding celebrations that violate religious beliefs.

The bill would also strip a section in the Senate's version that applied to parental rights. Some lawmakers were concerned about how Native Hawaiian ancestry might be recorded for the children of same-sex couples.

Gay couples would be able to marry starting Dec. 2 -- instead of Nov. 18 -- to give the state Department of Health adequate time to prepare.

The Senate would review the bill again if it clears the House. Senators could agree to accept the House version Tuesday and send the bill to Abercrombie, or could disagree, triggering a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the differences. House and Senate leaders have said they prefer to avoid conference committee, which would extend the special session and could create enough discord to threaten the bill's passage.

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