Civil unions bill might skirt panel


POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The civil-unions bill appears headed for a showdown in the state Senate this week.

Supporters and opponents have both rallied and lobbied for House Bill 444, which has already passed the state House.

;[Preview]Civil Union Supporters Gather At The State Capitol

There could be an important decision this week at the state capitol; public sentiment continues to be strong.

Watch ]


Yesterday, supporters from the Interfaith Alliance, a coalition of Christian, Jewish and Buddhist organizations, called for the bill to be approved.

“;We affirm the human dignity and worth of all people, and we also affirm that civil unions will not endanger our religious traditions nor the stability of our families,”; said the Rev. John Heidel, alliance president.

The Senate's Judiciary Committee starts its own hearing into the bill today, but senators say the six-member committee is deadlocked 3-3 and the bill is not likely to move out of committee.

Democratic leader Sen. Gary Hooser says the bill would do well if the entire Senate could vote.

“;There is no question that a large number of the majority members have said they would support civil unions on a floor vote,”; Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) said.

Still, Hooser admits the bill is controversial.

Religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage say that authorizing civil unions would be the same thing as approval of gay marriage. While supporters disagree, the battle lines have been joined and the Senate will have to make a decision.

To get the bill to a vote, Hooser explains, the senators will have to formally vote to pull the bill out of the Judiciary Committee and then vote for it on the Senate floor.

All that just adds to the controversy.

“;It is a difficult position and it is divisive.”; Hooser said. “;Any time you have to take a vote that doesn't represent consensus or is not unanimous, there is discomfort. We all want to do the right thing, but when a large portion of the population says they don't like what you are doing, then it makes you uncomfortable.”;

The controversial nature of the bill aside, Hooser said most of the Senate's 23 Democrats are likely to vote for the bill.

If it clears the Senate without amendments, it would go to Gov. Linda Lingle facing an uncertain future.

While Lingle has refused to comment on this measure, in the past she said she agreed with the 70 percent of the voters in 1998 who approved a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Also, Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona is a strong opponent of the bill.

Hooser and Democrats in the state House say they do not know whether there are enough votes in both chambers to override a Lingle veto.