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'Third rail' of isle politics looms just over horizon


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sitting just over the horizon but looming closer is the biggest smash-mouth political fight that nobody wants. The issue is same-sex marriage and by Jan. 20, 2010, it will be back before the Legislature.

When last addressed in May, the swirling, hot-button issue of legalizing civil unions or same-sex marriage or expanding reciprocal benefits was left on the floor of the Senate, which had amended House Bill 444. The bill never made it out of the Senate; it needs another Senate vote, then would head back to the House for another vote.

Or the Legislature could toss the entire matter into conference, leaving it until the end of the 2010 session.

Sen. Bob Bunda, an opponent of the bill, is counseling that the Legislature just “;wait for another day.”; He notes that conservative legal advocate Ted Olson is challenging the California ban on same-sex marriage and intends to take it to the Supreme Court.

“;We should wait until the courts handle the argument,”; Bunda says.

The details of the Hawaii issue are, in typical Hawaii fashion, excruciatingly complex and far from the actual issue at hand.

The bill has an effective date of Jan. 1, 2010, which means if it passes unamended, it will have taken effect before passed into law. Depending on how much you believe in time travel, this is either a fatal flaw or not, but it does give reason to amend the bill and increases the likelihood it will wind up in a conference committee.

Supporters such as Rep. Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa) fear that every day the bill waits for definitive action is a day that makes the issue more controversial and less likely for passage in an election year.

In the Senate, Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa) the veteran legislator and Judiciary Committee chairman, says he thinks the bill can be handled early on, but that there is no clear consensus among Senate Democratic leaders.

In May, former legislator Dennis Arakaki, an opponent of same-sex marriage, warned this is one of Hawaii's most divisive issues. To make matters even more interesting, possible candidate for governor Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who is quietly building support within conservative Christian groups, is expected to be on the other side of the issue from U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who says same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.

Although Hawaii politicians don't have any experience with a transit system, come January they will find out what happens when you touch the “;third rail”; of local politics.