House rejects
Senate proposal on
same-sex marriage

‘We're as far apart as we've ever been’

By Star-Bulletin staff

House leaders say they cannot accept a new constitutional amendment being proposed by Senate conferees in the same-sex marriage debate.

"We're just as far apart as we've ever been," Speaker Joe Souki said yesterday.

House Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom said he remains committed to a "clean" amendment that will keep the issue out of the courts, something he said the Senate proposal fails to do.

"It hasn't resolved the problem at all," he said.

While Souki remained hopeful the emotional issue could still be settled, the lack of substantial progress adds pressure on lawmakers, who must present a proposed amendment in final form to Gov. Ben Cayetano by Friday if one is to pass this session.

The Senate offered its latest version yesterday at the fourth conference committee meeting on the issue, saying it should satisfy their House counterparts.

"I can't understand why this would not be acceptable," Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga said immediately after the session.

"We've met every single one of the House's concerns."

The proposed amendment states, "The Legislature shall have the power to regulate the issuance of marriage licenses."

Opponents of same-sex marriage had objected to an earlier and lengthier Senate proposal that they feared would allow the courts to order same-sex marriage.

Senate Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley described the latest, 13-word amendment as "very simple, very clear, very clean and effective."

Meanwhile, the Senate essentially is sticking to a companion bill that grants some 200 state marital benefits to people who register as reciprocal beneficiaries, defined as any two people who cannot legally wed.

The senators, however, said the courts will remain open to nontraditional couples to seek equal rights and benefits. They disagree strongly with the House's approach, which they contend would deprive citizens of state constitutional protections and upset the balance of power between the three branches of government.

The House's proposed amendment reads, "The Legislature shall have the power to reserve the legal recognition of the marriage relationship, and its attendant rights, benefits and burdens to couples of the opposite sex."

Matsunaga added that the state attorney general's office has advised him the benefits would be granted when the bill is approved, and cannot be linked to voter ratification of an amendment as previously proposed.

The next committee meeting was not scheduled.

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