Civil union supporters upset at bill's death
Gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgendered advocates decried the demise of a bill before House lawmakers that would have created civil unions for same-sex couples in Hawaii.
"It was obviously very discouraging to feel that the unequal treatment of the minority is going to be perpetuated because people are afraid of not being re-elected," said Jo-Ann Adams, head of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Caucus for the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
The bill was shelved in the House Judicial Committee late Tuesday night, and advocates blamed Committee Chairman Tommy Waters.
Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said last night that he deferred a vote on the bill after he asked committee members how they would vote.
"It was going to die," he said. "It would have died at the table so rather than killing the measure I deferred the bill. The bill is still alive, so I'm encouraging the GLBT caucus and the other side to come back to the table and lets work out a compromise. Let's talk about what rights are being denied and let's provide them," he said.
The bill would have allowed same-sex partners the same rights as married men and women, even though the ruling Democratic Party had made civil unions one of its legislative priorities during its state convention last spring.
Civil unions were suggested as a way for the state to sidestep a controversy over gay marriage, but they proved to be nearly as contentious.
"This is essentially a re-examination of the same-sex marriage issue except with a different title," said Kelly Rosati, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Catholic Church and executive director for the Hawaii Family Forum.
Gay rights advocates said the law was needed to give same-sex couples equal rights as heterosexuals.
"For me, it's very clear cut that it's gender discrimination," said Scott Orton, who is gay. "I would like to take on a partner in the future and have the same rights as a married person."
More than 100 people packed the hearing, many of them waving pink signs saying "Civil Unions. Equal protection, justice for all." At least 400 people submitted extensive written and oral testimony for consideration by lawmakers.
Opponents of the bill argued that civil unions are being used as a step toward legalizing gay marriage. Gay proponents said they want the legal guarantees granted to married couples, such as tax breaks, adoption rights and health benefits.
Hawaii nearly legalized gay marriages more than a decade ago before stiff public opposition came from family advocacy groups and the Catholic and Mormon churches.
A decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court would have allowed same-sex marriages, but a 1998 constitutional amendment and a law defined marriage as between two people of opposite sexes.
"What you have before you is a bill that ... circumscribes that triumph of the principle of marriage that was put before voters 10 years ago," said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.
Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey already have civil union laws. Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages.
"It's never easy for a minority to reach equal status," said Adams of the GLBT Caucus. "Equal protection is a fundamental concept of this country, and it cannot be denied."
Star-Bulletin reporter Robert Shikina and the Associated Press contributed to this report.