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Civil-union bill advances


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POSTED: Friday, February 06, 2009

Hawaii lawmakers have moved forward a bill that would allow state-sanctioned civil unions for same-sex couples.

               

     

 

What's Next?

        » The bill, HB 444, will be placed on the House calendar for a third reading next week. Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, Judiciary Committee chairman, predicts the bill will win support in the House.
       

» It then would move to the Senate, where supporters say it faces more opposition.

       

» If the bill passes the Senate, it will go to Gov. Linda Lingle for her approval. She has not commented on the measure, but previously said she agreed with voters who approved in 1998 a constitutional amendment that limited marriage to opposite-gender couples.

       

While carefully insisting that the bill, House Bill 444, would not redefine marriage, supporters say it would give same-sex couples all benefits, rights and responsibilities of marriage after their civil union is certified.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut permit gay marriage, while New Hampshire, Vermont and New Jersey recognize various forms of civil unions.

A packed room of people wearing gold stickers with the word “;Equality”; on them erupted in loud cheers and hugs as the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill 12-0 last night.

The measure advances to a vote before the full House next week, where a majority of representatives - 32 out of 51 - have already said they support the civil-union measure. If it passes, the bill would then move on for consideration by the state Senate.

The bill was heard in 2007 to allow civil unions, but it failed to win support. Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu (D, Waipahu-Waikele), Judiciary chairman, said the bill cleared his committee easily this year after four hours of testimony because there has been a shift in community feeling toward gay marriage.

“;The biggest difference is the diverse support,”; he said. “;You had a lot of nonprofits, a lot of attorneys and a lot of churches come out for it - the churches were a turning point for a lot of the committee members.”;

 

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  Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) agreed that “;people are more tolerant, and it is not the defining issue in people's minds.”;

“;I think the mainstream feeling has changed to say civil unions are fine,”; Thielen said.

Speaking against the bill yesterday was Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona, who said the bill “;attempts to circumvent the will of the people by authorizing the equivalent to same-sex marriage.”;

Sixty-nine percent of Hawaii voters passed the nation's first “;defense of marriage”; amendment in 1998, which granted state lawmakers the power to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples.

The amendment followed a 1996 court decision that said the state had failed to show why same-sex marriages should not be allowed in Hawaii.

Civil-union bill supporters included Kim Coco Iwamoto, an attorney and state school board member, who said it was “;a blatant injustice”; that same-sex couples were denied civil marriages.

“;What are we as elected officials saying when we perpetuate arbitrary and discriminatory public policy upon our students, citizens or families?”; Iwamoto said.

The bill won the support of the Hawaii Government Employees Association; UNITE HERE Local 5, the hotel workers union; the state Democratic Party; and the state AFL-CIO.

It was opposed by the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference. Also speaking against it was Carmen Himenes, superintendent of Hawaii Catholic Schools.

“;In 1998 the people voted clearly that marriage, which is what the civil-union bill alludes to for same-sex couples, is to be solely defined as between a man and woman,”; Himenes said.

Also speaking against it was Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, who said, “;We cannot confuse our children ... that unnatural and immoral behavior is now an acceptable part of society.”;

Hawaii law allows domestic partnerships for gay couples with rights such as family and bereavement leaves, probate rights and hospital visitation. But civil unions would offer other rights similar to marriage, such as being able to file joint state taxes and adopt children.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.