Same-sex marriage
conferees haven’t budged

By Star-Bulletin staff

With a critical deadline less than two weeks away, House and Senate conferees in the same-sex marriage debate have made no visible progress toward settling broad differences in their positions.

Both sides have agreed that voters should be given the opportunity next year to ratify or reject a constitutional amendment to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. But a proposed amendment must be submitted to Gov. Ben Cayetano by April 11 if the Legislature is going to pass one this session -- and so far, neither side has budged.

The conference committee, which has met twice already, will take another stab at resolving the emotional issue when it convenes this afternoon. House Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom (D, Kahaluu-Kaneohe) and Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, East Maui-North Kauai) were optimistic yesterday that something will emerge this year, a feeling shared by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi.

"I'm confident that the conferees will deliberate and utilize these 11 days to get a constitutional amendment to the governor before the deadline," Mizuguchi said.

Meanwhile, opponents of same-gender marriage -- who favor the House position and blame the Senate for the deadlock -- said they will conduct orderly demonstrations in some Senate offices this week as part of "the final push."

The opponents plan to visit the offices for four hours tomorrow and Thursday and stand in them as part of a nonconfrontational vigil, according to a Hawaii Catholic Herald column and newspaper advertisements from the Alliance for Traditional Marriage.

The Rev. Marc Alexander, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference and co-chairman of Hawaii's Future Today, said a state Supreme Court ruling last week invalidating a constitutional convention puts tremendous pressure on the Legislature to act.

The convention was widely seen as a fallback position for opponents if lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement.

To put a proposed amendment on the ballot, lawmakers need a two-thirds approval in both chambers this session, or a majority vote in two consecutive sessions. While the debate could continue into next year, Alexander said he was concerned the high court -- which often takes years considering a case -- would issue a final ruling between sessions that allows same-gender marriage.

"We need a two-thirds vote and we need it now," he said.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Ben Villaflor said he did not expect any confrontations during the demonstration, but added that uniformed security will be patrolling Capitol hallways to ensure legislators can conduct their business. He said no additional security is being requested.

The conference committee is meeting after the two sides exchanged letters last week.

In a March 25 letter, the Senate said "sitting across the table and reading prepared statements" does little, and expressed a willingness to consider revisions to its amendment.

The House responded two days later accusing Senate conferees of resorting to "rhetoric, misrepresentation and innuendo" and restating its position.

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