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State House approves same-sex civil unions


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POSTED: Friday, February 13, 2009

A measure that would make civil unions for same-sex couples equivalent to traditional marriages cleared a major hurdle in the state Legislature yesterday.

The House approved the proposal by a vote of 33-17. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Taniguchi, whose committee would be charged with vetting the bill, said he plans to give it a hearing, but he is unsure of how the vote might go.

“;I'm not clear whether it can pass my committee,”; said Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa).

“;I believe there's adequate support for it,”; he added. “;If it does go to the (Senate) floor, my feeling is that the vote will be somewhat similar to the House.”;

The Senate can approve the House version of the bill, kill it or make changes. Both chambers must pass identical versions of the bill before it can go to Gov. Linda Lingle for consideration.

House members debated the measure for about 25 minutes before giving final approval.

It was opposed by 13 Democrats and four Republicans.

Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, who opposed the measure, related her personal experience of growing up with a gay sister, who died of cancer in 2001.

“;The last thing that I would want for her to feel in any way shape or form is that I didn't love her for who she was,”; said Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village).

“;The reason I am voting against this bill is because my belief is that the decisions we make today will shape our tomorrow. ... Marriage between a man and a woman is put up at the top and has been recognized by government. If we push to have government certify or make legal a union or marriage between the same sex, I believe that we push what is accepted to what will be promoted.”;

Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Punchbowl) said the measure was about equality, saying the measure was “;something we have to do.”;

“;It wasn't long ago when women couldn't vote, and it wasn't long ago when students were segregated in the classrooms because of race,”; she said. “;We continue to allow overt discrimination in our community to happen, and it is something that we should not tolerate anymore.”;

Supporters of House Bill 444 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.

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

Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R, Kalani Valley-Diamond Head) said she was voting in favor of the measure because she supports family values.

“;I believe in obligations and responsibility and committed relationships,”; she said. “;I believe everyone should love and be loved, and I believe that we are all God's little children.”;