Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Tom wants action
on gay unions

Two bills may settle an issue
that has been talked to death

By Jean Christensen

House Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom says his panel will act quickly to put the same-sex marriage issue to rest, with a hearing set for tomorrow on a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage and a limited benefits package for couples who cannot legally marry.

Tom (D, Kahaluu-Heeia-Kaneohe) said there is no need to drag out debate on an issue that has already been talked to death.

"We're going to do the people's business," he said.

"We've had this issue for four years. We had full discussion last year on this issue."

While the quick action was praised by gay marriage opponents, it drew fire from the director of the Hawaii Equal Rights Marriage Project.

"We are completely and totally horrified that anyone would propose an amendment that would take away civil rights of any group of American citizens," Sue Reardon said. "Restricting marriage between a man and a woman is restricting our civil rights, and I have to wonder who's next."

Hawaii's Future Today, which opposes gay marriage, said it was encouraged by the constitutional amendment bill.

Both measures were introduced by House Speaker Joe Souki. The constitutional amendment already has enough support for passage in the 51-member House, with 29 co-sponsors. Twenty lawmakers signed the benefits bill.

Tom said the hurried pace has "nothing whatsoever" to do with the Republican minority's call for action by Feb. 13 on the gay marriage question and other hot-button issues such as no-fault auto insurance and the "high three" retirement system for lawmakers. Both the House and Senate majority leaderships have made resolving the same-sex marriage issue one of their highest priorities this session, after failing to agree on the matter last year.

Circuit Judge Kevin Chang last fall ruled that the state does not have a compelling reason to keep gay couples from marrying.

The state has appealed the decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which in 1993 said the state's ban on gay marriage amounted to unconstitutional gender discrimination.

The House amendment proposal would ask voters if the Constitution should be changed to say that laws limiting marriage to between a man and a woman do not violate the Constitution.

Sen. Randall Iwase (D, Waipahu) and nine other senators have also co-sponsored an amendment bill designed to eliminate the Supreme Court's justification for finding the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.

It says the term "sex" in the state Constitution cannot be interpreted in a way that prohibits the state from defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Both the House and Senate are considering proposals to grant limited benefits to people who live together but cannot legally marry each other.

The proposals apply to gay and lesbian couples, as well as to relatives, such as a widowed mother sharing a home with her unmarried son.

In the House, Souki's "reciprocal beneficiaries" measure would give such couples inheritance rights along with the right to visit each other in the hospital and make health-care decisions, to hold property together and to sue for wrongful death.

The Senate measure allows for joint filing of state tax returns, death and retirement benefits and wrongful death lawsuits.

Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga said he and fellow Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley will sponsor a package that combines a constitutional amendment with certain rights and benefits that apply to homosexual couples.

Matsunaga said the committee will hold a hearing on same-sex marriage soon but that no date has been set.

Same-sex archives

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community]
[Info] [Letter to Editor] [Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin