State House and Senate leaders said Tuesday that they do not have the two-thirds’ support required to call a special session on gay marriage and would return to the state Capitol on the issue only if Gov. Neil Abercrombie initiates it.
Aides close to Abercrombie have said the governor is waiting to hear from House and Senate leadership about whether there are enough votes supporting a gay marriage bill before deciding whether to call a special session. Without a clear signal, the issue will likely not be taken up until the next session of the Legislature opens in January.
Gay rights advocates have urged Abercrombie and the Legislature to act on gay marriage in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that legally married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits. Same-sex and heterosexual couples in Hawaii can enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law but not federal law.
Under the state Constitution, two-thirds’ support in the House and Senate is required for a special session. Neither chamber has the necessary votes, leaders say, although there appears to be growing support for gay marriage.
Senate leaders, who met privately Tuesday, say there are now roughly 20 votes for gay marriage in the 25-member chamber. In the House, sources estimate that a bare majority of the 51 lawmakers would back a gay marriage bill, with several lawmakers undecided. House leaders want to make sure there are sufficient votes before informing the governor.
"Right now we’re undecided. We still need to count the votes. We need to have a discussion with the Senate and also with the governor," said House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully).
"We don’t have the two-thirds’ vote to call ourselves into special session."
Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (D, Kakaako-McCully-Waikiki) said "we’re not going to be pulling ourselves back in."
Galuteria said the governor and House and Senate leaders would likely have to agree on a draft of a gay marriage bill before any special session is called by the governor. "We’re not going to come in unless there is a good chance that it’s going to happen," he said.
Sources have said that one challenge in building a consensus on gay marriage, particularly in the House, is the complaints filed with the Democratic Party of Hawaii against 11 state House and Senate Democrats who last session proposed a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage. Oahu Democrats are set to hear the complaints Aug. 10.
Some of the House Democrats targeted by the complaints have said they are re-evaluating their thinking or are now undecided on gay marriage. Sources say it may be easier to lock down the votes — and advance the idea of a special session — if the complaints are withdrawn.
The Senate, which has advise and consent responsibility over judicial nominations, does plan to hold a special session in early August to consider state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald’s appointment of James Ashford as a District Court judge on Oahu.