Same-sex discussions
may resume

But how close lawmakers are to
a deal is subject to debate

By Star-Bulletin staff

House and Senate leaders yesterday continued to insist they were nearing agreement in the same-sex marriage issue, although no formal talks were held and conferees remain split on fundamental points.

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Fort Shafter-Aiea) told reporters the two sides are "the closest we've been in a long time" and expressed confidence negotiations would resume this week.

"Reasonable men can disagree, but given the time element that we have, reasonable men have to agree," he said.

House Speaker Joe Souki (D, Kapalua-Wailuku), in the meantime, said lawmakers are very close to resolving the emotional and complex subject, and also believed they could sit down and settle their differences.

"There will be resolution," he said.

Conferees working at the state Capitol until 2 a.m. Saturday failed to meet an internal deadline to agree on a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying.

They now face a legal deadline of midnight Friday to give Gov. Ben Cayetano a required 10-day notice on the final language of the amendment, assuming the Legislature adjourns as scheduled on April 29.

Souki said he and Mizuguchi spoke to each other yesterday about formally extending the internal deadline to Friday, but decided not to do so immediately. It will be extended after they feel an accord has been reached, he said.

"Sometimes when you get polarized, it's not too easy to continue and make progress," Souki said. "Rest a few days."

Conferees, though, are still wrestling with basic issues that have kept them apart since talks began early last month, giving Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae-Palolo) a somewhat cloudier perspective.

"If it appears we can achieve a resolution, then I think we should certainly ask leadership to extend the deadline and see if we can resolve this," he said. "I'm not sure whether or not we can."

The House is insisting that marriage should be solely a policy issue for lawmakers. But the Senate wants assurances nontraditional couples will retain state constitutional protections so the traditional balance of power between the three governmental branches is preserved.

The Senate wants to extend some 200 state marital rights and benefits to reciprocal beneficiaries starting July 1, which it says will satisfy court questions about fair treatment.

But the House is worried about the fiscal impacts of the package, and wants it to take effect Jan. 1, 1999, after voters have had a chance to ratify the amendment.

The Senate contends costs would be negligible, but House Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom (D, Kahaluu-Kaneohe) said the full package "could bankrupt the state."

"I understand that in the legislature you have a thing called compromise," he said. "The question is, how far do you compromise? The Senate wants it all, and I don't think that's fair to the taxpayers."

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