Chances weaken for passage of altered civil union measure


POSTED: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A last-ditch attempt to pass a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples appears to be foundering in the state Senate.

Legislators already voted down attempts to pull the civil union bill, House Bill 444, out of the deadlocked Senate Judiciary Committee. This week supporters, with the encouragement of Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, have been floating an amended version of the bill in hopes of winning passage this year.

After a 45-minute Democratic caucus yesterday, Senate Vice President Russell Kokubun was tasked with polling the 23 Democratic members to see if there was support for any more action on the issue this year.

“;I would say it is less than 50-50,”; Kokubun said when asked about the chances of the bill moving ahead.

Noting that the bill is still alive for consideration next year, Kokubun said he thinks that “;time is running out for any amendment.”;

Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, said “;there are a lot of obstacles”; to reviving the same-sex or civil-union issue this year.

The Legislature is set to adjourn May 7. According to internal legislative timetables, House bills to be voted on in the Senate have to be ready by Tuesday.

Supporters like state Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto spent yesterday lobbying senators.

The proposed amendment would open civil unions to any two unrelated people and take out references to marriage.

Hanabusa said yesterday that the renewed interest in the measure came after the meeting with Iwamoto.

“;It expresses the concerns of the Senate and it shows that the advocates are willing to entertain some of the concerns of the Senate and the general public,”; Hanabusa said.

But Iwamoto said that lobbying is proving difficult.

“;We feel that civil rights are being held hostage by religious conservatives,”; Iwamoto said.

Also yesterday, former state Rep. Dennis Arakaki, who is interim executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, sent out an e-mail to supporters saying Iwamoto's amendment is “;the same as same-sex marriage.”; The group has opposed same-sex marriages.

“;We are not willing to compromise on the civil unions bill or issue,”; Arakaki said. “;Continue to pray, because after all that has been said and done up to this point, it is prayer and faith that has kept this bill at bay.”;