The state House voted to approve the same-sex marriage bill late Friday night, sending the measure back to the Senate where it is expected to be approved next week then sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.
The roll call vote, just after 10 p.m., was 30-19 with two members excused.
The approval came after the second marathon hearing this week as hundreds of raucous opponents and proponents demonstrated outside the House chamber, and after more than 55 hours of public testimony over five days of House committee hearings that began last week.
The bill would allow same-sex couples to marry as soon as Dec. 2 but would broaden a religious exemption for churches and religious organizations that do not want to be involved in gay weddings.
Minutes after the vote, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a news release: “I commend the House of Representatives for taking this historic vote to move justice and equality forward.
“After more than 50 hours of public testimony from thousands of testifiers on both sides of the issue, evaluating dozens of amendments, and deliberating procedures through hours of floor debates, the House passed this significant bill, which directly creates a balance between marriage equity for same-sex couples and protects our First Amendment freedoms for religious organizations.”
In an emotional speech on the House floor before the vote, bill supporter Rep. Kaniela Ing, a South Maui Democrat, repeatedly asked, “How many more gay people must God create before we realize that he wants them here?”
The Senate could hear the bill on Tuesday. Senators said Thursday that although they prefer their version of the bill, which contains a narrower religious exemption, they are inclined to take the House version, provided it is not amended further.
“That seems like the prevailing mood of the members I spoke to,” said Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee.
If the Senate agrees to the House version Tuesday, it would go directly to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his expected signature.
Hee said he is not pleased with the broader religious exemption in the House bill. “However, having said that, it doesn’t detract from making second-class citizens first-class citizens,” he said.
Likewise, Abercrombie, a Democrat, earlier indicated that he can support the current versionof the bill.
Before Friday night’s vote, state House representatives rejected more than two dozen proposed amendments by bill opponents, seeking to delay, postpone or weaken the bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Later in the night, bill opponent Rep. Beth Fukumoto (R, Mililani-Mililani Mauka) complained about the special session, “This process is broken. And the measure is flawed because of it.”
The hearing began just after 10 a.m. Lawmakers quickly shot down four floor amendments by Republican opponents of the bill before lunch. The proposals included calling for a task force to study gay marriage, opt-outs for people who object to same-sex marriage and for children learning about gay people in schools, and an exemption for religious organizations in the state’s public accommodations law.
After returning from lunch, the full House continued to reject opponents’ proposed amendments with House Speaker Joe Souki limiting the discussion to 10 minutes for each motion before being called to a vote.
When told debate would be limited, Republican Rep. Gene Ward of Hawaii Kai protested and asked for the rules to be specified and clarified.
“It’s cooking the books,” Ward said as Souki declared an immediate recess and lawmakers scrambled to argue about the rules amid cheers and jeers from the gallery.
The time limit allowed the House to hear — and reject — more than 20 more amendments. At 6:15 p.m., the House began debating the actual bill.
Friday’s hearing unfurled similar to Wednesday’s contentious, emotional 11-hour hearing in which the House voted 30-18 vote to move the bill to the final vote.
While members debated the proposed changes in the House chamber, a crowd of protestors on both sides of the issue chanted and sang just outside in the Capitol rotunda chant and sing.
“It’s a shame that they think they will be doing the right thing, but I think it’s sinful,” 54-year-old Frank Kauhi of Honolulu said Friday as he held a sign that said “Remember next November,” a reference to the 2014 elections.
Across the Capitol rotunda, Episcopal Rev. Walter Brownridge led supporters of same-sex marriage in a prayer. “May our Legislature show the wisdom to be compassionate and not fearful,” said Brownridge, of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu.
Demonstrations outside the House chamber on Wednesday at times turned intense, with shouting by opponents of gay marriage heard inside the state House chamber.
In anticipation of Friday’s demonstrations outside the House chamber, state sheriffs took added security precautions meant to permit passionate exchanges while preserving safety and preventing disruptions.
Barricades were arranged outside the House chamber to prevent demonstrators from banging on or poking flagpoles on the windows to the chamber.
The opponents and supporters of the bill were also divided inside the House gallery so neither will have a numerical advantage. Both sides were also asked to share Beretania Street, a popular venue for sign-waving.
For the vote breakdown on final House vote on the same-sex marriage bill, see our Political Radar blog at http://bit.ly/1dTPalt