Civil union standoff


POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Senate Democrats are meeting today to see whether they can resolve the deadlocked position on civil unions for same-sex couples.

At issue is House Bill 444, which extends all the rights, privileges and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, without calling the partnership a marriage.

Opponents, led by conservative Christian church groups, have lobbied against the bill, saying Hawaii voted against gay marriage in 1998 and that the issue should not be taken up again.

Now supporters of the bill say a recent statewide survey done by QMark Research and Polling shows 81 percent support for equal treatment for couples no matter what their gender.

For the Senate Democrats, the issue is whether they have enough votes to either pull the bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is deadlocked 3-3, or fashion a compromise by amending the bill in committee. An amended bill would require passage by the Senate, sending it back to the House for either approval or a conference committee later this spring.

“;First we have to see if there is consensus to have the bill amended,”; said Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) noted that there are discussions among several Democrats about amending the bill, and the talk of amending the bill means that support for the encompassing civil union language in HB 444 is waning.

“;If people are asking for amendments, it may mean there is not the support for the original bill,”; Hanabusa said.

The measure's chief sponsor in the Senate, Kauai Democrat Sen. Gary Hooser, said he prefers the original bill but is open to suggestions.

“;We want to see if there is a way we can come up with something that a broad majority would agree on and would still be meaningful and also be accepted by the House,”; Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) said.

Democrats still support civil unions, Hooser said, but he added that there are questions of “;how many rights and benefits do you want to convey.”;

While senators were planning their strategy inside the state Capitol yesterday, a new group, Family Equality Coalition, held a news conference outside the Capitol to lobby for HB 444.

The group is an ecumenical coalition of Christian, Buddhist and Jewish religious leaders who said the issue was one of civil rights and social justice.

“;We gather here in response to the attempts of a vocal religious minority to derail civil unions,”; the leaders said in a statement.

Speaking for the group, Rabbi Peter Schaktman of Temple Emanu-El said partnerships in a family life benefit society.

“;Family life is strengthened when a strong, publicly validated commitment exists between the heads of a household.

“;Please do not use the religion as a weapon to reinforce bigotry and diminish democracy in our rainbow state,”; Schaktman said.