Civil unions divide Capitol


POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

At 3 a.m. today, after 18 hours of impassioned public testimony, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-3 on a bill that would allow civil unions for same sex couples.

;[Preview] Civil Union Vote Lingers

The controversial bill that would give same sex partners the same rights as married couples is still being heard late into the night.

Watch ]


More than 1,400 people signed up to testify on both sides of the contentious issue, including more than 100 added after midnight.

Voting for the measure were Sens. Brian Taniguchi, Dwight Takamine and Clarence Nishihara while Sens. Robert Bunda, Sam Slom and Mike Gabbard voted against it.

Taniguchi said he supports pulling the bill from the committee and putting it up for a vote of the full Senate, where at least 18 of the 25 senators have said they favor civil unions. The measure already has passed the Hawaii House.

The proposal, House Bill 444, would give same-sex partners the same rights as a married couple, without applying the state's marriage law.

Some of the testimony was heated, such as the exchange between Gabbard, who spearheaded the effort against gay marriage in Hawaii in 1998, and Hawaii Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto.

Gabbard held up children's books with titles like “;Daddy's Wedding”; and “;It's Perfectly Normal”; as he claimed that “;these books would be taught in our schools”; if the civil unions bill passes.

Iwamoto responded that civil unions would help make children in gay families feel more normal and less likely to commit suicide.

“;I want to make sure that these kids aren't thinking, 'Gee, just because that kid has gay parents, let's harass him, let's bully him,'”; Iwamoto said.

Although he was in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona sent in testimony criticizing the bill.

Aiona said the bill “;attempts to circumvent the will of the people by authorizing the equivalent to same-sex marriage ... despite not referring to a civil union as marriage, this bill would confer all of the rights, duties and obligations of marriage to participants in a civil union.”;

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, also in Washington, sent in testimony supporting the bill.

“;This bill offers homosexuals equality under the law and ensures basic human rights,”; he said.

“;The gay and lesbian citizens of Hawaii are good citizens; they pay taxes and follow laws. It is shameful that while they must give their equal share to the government, the government will not give them equal protection,”; Abercrombie added.

The audience was made up mostly of opponents to the bill. Ben Weiss, a contractor, and member of the New Hope Chapel of Nanakuli, said his own civil rights would be threatened if the bill became law.

Weiss said that once a civil-union bill passes “;Why not say they should have the same rights as marriage and then once that becomes law, why not have the right to teach it in the schools.

“;If my kids have to stay in a room with someone who would teach them about homosexual marriage, it is a violation of my rights and my kids' rights,”; Weiss said.

Asked what he would do if the bill won Senate approval, Weiss said he would work to defeat those senators.

Speaking for the bill, Alan Spector, co-chairman of the Family Equality Coalition of Hawaii, said he thought that Hawaii's politics had changed since the 1998 vote and that the majority of Hawaii voters would support civil unions.



The Associated Press contributed to this story.