East Hawaii News

Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriages, Sends Bill to Governor

November 12, 2013, 2:27 PM HST
* Updated November 13, 11:45 AM
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Update: At around 10:50 a.m. Nov. 13, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law. See full story here.

Hawai`i continues on its track to be the 15th state in the nation to legalize gay marriages.

The state Senate today voted 19-4 to approve the House’s version of Senate Bill 1 which extends to same-sex couples most of the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples currently receive.

Those voting against the bill were Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, fellow Democratic Sens. Mike Gabbard and Ron Kouchi, and the body’s lone Republican, Sen. Sam Slom.

Two members, Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Brian Taniguchi, were absent for the vote which took place at 12:55 p.m.

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Every member of the Big Island’s legislative delegation voted in favor of the bill except for Rep. Clift Tsuji, who represents parts of Hilo including Keaukaha, Panaewa and Waiakea.

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The announcement of the vote tally was met by a combination of cheers and booing from members of the public present, prompting Senate President Donna Mercado Kim to warn that she would clear the room if it continued.

The Senate vote came following less than three hours of discussion, a blink of the eye compared to the more than 57 hours of testimony and roughly 24 hours of deliberation that took place during the House proceedings.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor placed its initial stamp of approval on the bill on Oct. 28 after a lengthy hearing that included verbal testimony from more than 400 people and another 3,000 pieces of written testimony.

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By comparison, 5,184 people signed up to testify before two House committees with more than 1,000 actually appearing to speak over five days. The public also submitted more than 20,000 pieces of written testimony to the House.

Now that the 16-day special session is ended, the bill goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.

Abercrombie has already stated that he is in agreement with the House amendments which expanded the bill’s religious exemptions and removed a section on parental rights.

One amendment would allow pastors, churches and religious organizations to steer clear of involvement in gay marriages if it “is in violation of their religious beliefs or faith.”

Several members of the House members tried but failed to expand that exemption to businesses “of conscience” opposed to same-sex unions.

About a half-hour after the vote, the governor issued a statement saying he intended to sign the bill into law.

“Today, we celebrate our diversity defining us rather than dividing us,” Abercrombie said. “I believe this bill provides equal rights for all people, is legally sound, and is in accord with the Hawaii State Constitution.

“I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms,” he said.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized gay marriages.

Illinois’ Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill last week but that state’s governor has indicated that he will sign the bill into law at a ceremony on Nov. 20.

Hawaii’s bill calls for the state Department of Health to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Dec. 2.

However, state Rep. Bob McDermott plans to seek a court restraining order to prevent that from happening.

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