East Hawaii News

UPDATE: House Amends, Approves Gay-Marriage Bill

November 5, 2013, 10:28 AM HST
* Updated November 5, 7:59 PM
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***Updated at 6:55 p.m., 7:28 p.m. and 8:01 p.m.***

The state House tonight voted in favor of an amended version of the bill legalizing same-gender marriages in Hawai`i, setting up a new round of deliberations in the Senate.

The new version of Senate Bill 1 was approved 10-7 in the Committee on Finance and 8-5 in the Committee on Judiciary.

Three of the four Big Island members of the House committees, Reps. Denny Coffman, Richard Onishi and Nicole Lowen, voted in favor of the bill. The fourth, Rep. Clift Tsuji, voted against it.

One of the changes to the bill expanded its religious exemptions.

Patterned after a Connecticut law, the amendment allows religious organizations to avoid “solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of its religious beliefs and faith” without running afoul of civil rights aspects of what is known as public accommodations law.

Another change made by the House was removal of a section guaranteeing parental rights and protections such as paternity and maternity responsibilities.  That change was reportedly prompted by concerns over the recording of native Hawaiian ancestry.

Another change delayed the bill’s effective date from Nov. 18 to Dec. 3.

The House is scheduled to take a second of three required votes on the bill Wednesday. A third and final reading could take place Thursday.

It would then move to the Senate, which approved the bill in its original form last week.

If the Senate does not agree with the House changes, a conference committee with members from both bodies would be formed to try to work out a compromise.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Attorney General David Louie issued a statement tonight endorsing the amended bill.

“The amendments outlined in House Draft 1 strike a balance between the bill that was introduced by the Legislature and concerns raised in written and oral testimony during public hearings,” the statement said.

“We support the principle that any measure on marriage equity must protect religious freedom, which the Legislature has clearly worked to achieve.

“The bill as amended is legally sound and is in accord with the Hawaii State Constitution. We urge the Legislature to pass this bill, which would provide marriage equity and fully recognize religious beliefs in that context.”

Updated at 3:07 p.m. and 3:52 p.m.:

Two state House committees this afternoon began discussion of a same-gender marriage bill following completion of public testimony.

A House spokesman said the testimony portion of the joint hearing ended at about 2 p.m.

Out of 5,184 who signed up to testify in person, more than 1,000 people who were present when their number was called presented committee members with comments on the legislation. An exact count on the number of testifiers was not immediately available.

The testimony lasted for 56 hours spread out over five days.

The chairpersons of the Judiciary and Finance committees initially indicated that they would reconvene at 3 p.m. to provide a public update. That time was later extended to 3:30 p.m. and then 4:15 p.m.

Posted at 10:28 a.m.:

Today could be the day for the state House of Representatives to begin decision-making on legislation legalizing same-gender marriages in Hawaii.

The Judiciary and Finance committees will resume taking testimony today at 10:30 a.m.

The committees are working their way through the list of 5,184 registered testifiers a second time, allowing those who were absent the first time their name was called another chance to speak.

According to House spokesman William Nhieu, testimony today will start with No. 3,200 on the list.

The committees wrapped up their fourth day of testimony at 10:30 p.m. Monday, Nhieu said.

He said if the testimony concludes today, committee members could begin deliberations on Senate Bill 1.

Rep. Richard Onishi, a Big Island member of the House Finance committee holding a joint hearing on Senate Bill 1. House photo.

Rep. Richard Onishi. House photo.

There are 17 members on the Finance committee and 13 members on Judiciary.

The Big Island has two members on each of the committees.

On Finance they are Rep. Clift Tsuji, who represents parts of Hilo including Keaukaha, Panaewa and Waiakea; and Rep. Denny Coffman, who represents the area from Naalehu to Kailua-Kona.

On Finance they are Rep. Richard Onishi, who represents the area from Hilo to Volcano, including Keaau and Kurtistown; and Nicole Lowen, whose district consists of the area from Kailua-Kona north to Honokohau.

Rep. Nicole Lowen. House photo.

Rep. Nicole Lowen. House photo.

The bill passed the Senate last week unamended after one day of testimony.

If the House makes changes to the bill as many anticipate, the House and Senate will have to work out a compromise for the bill to pass.

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