Crowds jam
civil union debate

Backers say the bill is
acceptable, while critics worry
about marriage implications

The issue of civil unions for same-sex couples brought back old memories and old enemies as about 100 people jammed into a House Judiciary Committee hearing last night to give and hear testimony.

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House Bill 1024 was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Eric Hamakawa as the national debate on the same subject flares across the country. Yesterday the testimony began with a House member getting up to say her piece against civil unions.

"To try to act as if there is a difference between 'civil unions' and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii," said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, who directed her testimony at Hamakawa. "As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists."

Tamayo is a daughter of City Councilman Mike Gabbard, a leader of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values, which has battled against same-sex marriage.

Debate on the House bill ended late last night and the committee deferred a decision until later. The bill would cover unmarried people 18 years and older who are not related and live together, allowing them to "consider themselves to be members of each other's immediate family and agree to be jointly responsible for each other's basic living expenses."

For some who support equality for same-sex couples, the bill is far from perfect but acceptable.

"It's a steppingstone," said Martin Rice, legislative chairman of the Civil Unions -- Civil Rights Movement. "It's the best that we can do in this state at this time."

Carolyn Martinez Golojuch, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said she has been fighting for equal rights for her gay son for nine years, and she is tired of it.

"I'll take it," she said last night before the committee. "For too many years the legal rights of our children have been trampled on for the mental comfort of others. This has to stop. Those who are uncomfortable with our children have to grow up and face the facts."

Others were concerned that though the bill itself would not give full benefits for gay and lesbian couples, it could start a movement that did just that.

"This bill, if passed, would open the door to a suit demanding full marriage, and you know it," said Daniel McGivern, president of Pro-Family Hawaii. "This bill is evil and has no place in our society."

In 1998, Hawaii voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to restrict marriage to people of the opposite sex. After the constitutional amendment vote, legislators passed the so-called reciprocal benefits law that extends a small number of benefits, such as hospital visitation, health benefits, probate and property transfers, to homosexual couples or nontraditional families.

The bill before the committee last night would substitute civil unions for the reciprocal beneficiary law.


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