The state Senate on Tuesday will agree to the state House’s version of a marriage equality bill and send it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.
Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, announced Saturday that he would recommend that the Senate accept the House’s changes to the bill, which expanded a religious exemption.
Abercrombie is expected to sign the marriage equality bill into law shortly after he receives it from the Senate. If Abercrombie signs the bill before Nov. 20, Hawaii would be the 15th state plus the District of Columbia to allow same-sex couples to marry. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois has announced that he would sign a marriage equality bill into law at a ceremony in Chicago on Nov. 20.
"There are very few opportunities to participate in government in decisions that define your career, and this is one of those decisions that will define the careers of all of the members in the Legislature," Hee told reporters at a news conference where he appeared with Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria (D, Kakaako-McCully-Waikiki).
"Although Hawaii was not the first to enact same-sex marriage, what shouldn’t be lost is Hawaii was the first — in the Baehr v. Lewin lawsuit — that started the same-sex marriage discussion nationally."
The state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses was a violation of equal protection under the state Constitution. The court’s ruling influenced Congress to approve the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples, and prompted Hawaii voters in 1998 to approve a constitutional amendment that gave the state Legislature the power to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was an unconstitutional violation of due process and equal protection, allowing same-sex couples who are legally married to receive federal benefits. The court left it up to the states to decide whether to legalize gay marriage.
Abercrombie responded to the court’s ruling by calling the Legislature into special session to consider a marriage equality bill.
The House approved the marriage equality bill late Friday in a 30-19 vote after overcoming procedural maneuvers to delay action. Hee predicted that the Senate vote on Tuesday would be 21-4 if all senators are available to vote.
Galuteria announced that security procedures for the Senate floor session on Tuesday would be similar to Friday’s House session, where advocates for gay marriages and opponents were separated outside the state Capitol.
Under the bill, gay couples could get married in Hawaii as soon as Dec. 2. Clergy would have the right to refuse to perform gay weddings. Churches and other religious organizations would be able to decline to provide goods, services and facilities for gay weddings and celebrations if it violates religious beliefs.
State Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), who opposes gay marriage, sent Abercrombie a letter on Friday stating that he would file a temporary restraining order in Circuit Court to prevent the state from issuing marriage licences.
McDermott believes that the 1998 constitutional amendment that gave the Legislature the power to define marriage as between heterosexual couples trumps any statutory change to the law. He insists that another vote by the people is necessary to redefine marriage.
Judge Karl Sakamoto has said he would hear McDermott’s challenge after the marriage equality bill becomes law.