Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Partnership bill
is tabled
for this year

A split in the gay community
is a major reason lawmakers
aren't touching proposals

By Mike Yuen


Legislature '99 Domestic partnerships -- which gay rights activists say would provide societal recognition and a step toward the goal of same-sex marriage -- is dead at the Legislature this year.

The House and the Senate have not held hearings on Gov. Ben Cayetano's domestic partnership bill or any similar proposal. And it would take a major reversal for either chamber to schedule a hearing before Friday's midnight deadline to advance a domestic partnership bill, legislative leaders said yesterday.

Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said a split in the gay community is a major reason why lawmakers aren't touching domestic partnership proposals. Cayetano's initiative, for instance, would have given gay couples many of the financial benefits of marriage but would have withheld adoption and parental rights.

Matsunaga said some gays and lesbians want lawmakers to go forward on the issue, but others, for tactical reasons and because same-sex marriage is still pending in the courts, don't want the matter fought out in the Legislature. "So it made no sense banging our heads against the wall," Matsunaga said.

House Majority Leader Ed Case (D, Manoa) added that no group interested in domestic partnerships or in legislation reaffirming that marriage is limited to opposite-sex couples "appeared desirous of the Legislature acting on either issue."

"Those who want to take up domestic partnerships don't want to take up recodification (of marriage). Those who want to take up recodification don't want to take up domestic partnerships. So the consistent message that both the House and the Senate have had virtually from the beginning of the session is, 'Stay out of this issue for now,'" Case said.

Lawmakers were hesitant to act for another reason, said Linda Rosehill, the lobbyist who played a key role in the passage of the marriage amendment. "After a very contentious vote rejecting same-sex marriage, lawmakers obviously don't want to deal with anything related to that issue," she observed.

They're betting, Rosehill said, that the Hawaii Supreme Court will accept the attorney general's opinion that the November vote means that a lower court ruling permitting same-sex marriage will have to be overturned and that lawmakers don't need to pass another measure reaffirming that marriage is a union limited to one man and one woman.

If that happens, lawmakers will be free to consider domestic partnership on its own merits and not have it "leveraged" against a measure reaffirming the definition of marriage as some gay rights activists were threatening to do, Rosehill added.

Dan Foley, Honolulu civil rights attorney who represents the three gay couples who sued the state for the right to marry, said, "I think for the Legislature to have one session without this divisive issue is not a bad idea."

Foley, whose arguments have found a more receptive audience in the courtroom than in the Legislature or in the voting booth, is urging the high court to affirm Circuit Judge Kevin Chang's decision in 1996 permitting same-sex marriage. The vote four months ago prohibits gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses issued by the state, but should not be seen as barring gays from the rights and benefits obtained through marriage, Foley said.

Kenneth Miller, a board member of the Marriage Project-Hawaii, said legislative inaction this session is only a temporary setback. "The fight will always continue. If not here in Hawaii, elsewhere," said Miller, who is gay.

Miller said while the project was not happy with Cayetano's "limited" domestic partnership proposal, it was a step in the right direction to full equality and same-sex marriage. "We'll take what we can get," Miller said.

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