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Hawaii Senate passes gay marriage, sends to House

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Senators passed SB 1, the "Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013", on their third reading Wednesday afternoon -- after passionate, and often very personal testimony. 

Senator Jill Tokuda stood in support of SB 1, and had other lawmakers in tears as she described her dream to dance at her sons' weddings some day. 

"It got me thinking about all of the mothers and fathers out there who just want that moment with their child and who've suffered along side them with their rights denied.  Pope Francis said, 'Who am I to judge?'  I ask, 'Who am I to deny?'" Sen. Tokuda said during her address. 

Senator Mike Gabbard explained how he's been called a hater, homophobe -- even a Nazi -- for opposing SB 1. 

"The real issue here is, have we really done all that we can to give the opportunity for people's voices to be heard?  After all, isn't that what the democratic process is all about? This is even more reason why we should heed the advice of the people who are urging us to let the people decide by putting this back on the ballot in 2014 as a Constitutional amendment," said Gabbard. 

A packed gallery applauded as Senator Clayton Hee, who chairs the Judiciary & Labor committee, started things off by introducing retired State Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson. In 1993, Levinson wrote the landmark Baehr v. Lewin decision that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses was a violation of equal protection.  

Sen. Hee stood in support of SB 1 and quoted a 14th Amendment court decision that held marriage was a fundamental right.  He went on to describe the vitriol that same-sex couples face today as being much like what interracial couples faced in the 1950s. 

Hee told fellow legislators the meaning of aloha should include everyone "regardless of sexual orientation". 

Sen. Will Espero also stood in support of SB 1, explaining how his position has evolved since voting no on civil unions. After reading from the Declaration of Independence, Espero asked, "Isn't that what being in a lasting legal marriage with the person you love is all about?"

During her address in support of SB 1, Senator Rosalyn Baker said, "equal rights delayed are equal rights denied." Later adding, "You can't let the majority decide on the rights of minorities, minorities never get their rights by popular vote," in response to calls to let the people decide.

Majority Leader Senator Brickwood Galuteria said, "the government either treats everyone the same or it doesn't. Right now, it doesn't."

Senator Laura Thielen said she would never put up marriage equality for a popular vote just like she would not put up the First Amendment for a vote.

"Government acts in a neutral manner when we issue government licenses so that we don't discriminate based upon gender orientation and marriage," Sen. Thielen said. 

Senators Clarence Nishihara, Russell Ruderman, Gilbert Keith-Agaran, Les Ihara, Kalani English, Malama Solomon, and Michelle Kidani, who read several bible verses, also stood in support of SB 1.

Two senators stood in "strong opposition" to the bill, Sens. Sam Slom and Mike Gabbard.

Gabbard questioned the necessity of calling a special session.

"The real issue here is, have we really done all that we can to give the opportunity for people's voices to be heard?  After all, isn't that what the democratic process is all about?  This is even more reason why we should heed the advice of the people who are urging us to let the people decide by putting this back on the ballot in 2014 as a Constitutional amendment.  The fact is there are many valid concerns that opponents of this bill have, and it's a real mistake to ram this through without addressing them," said Gabbard.

Minority Leader Senator Sam Slom said supporters of SB 1 "misconstrued privilege for rights".

"This issue is not about love.  It's not about compassion.  It's not about equal rights.  It's about money.  It's about tax benefits.  It's about federal benefits," said Slom. 

He went on to describe the bill as "an attack on religious freedom and the First Amendment, make no mistake about it," Slom said.

After nearly two hours of testimony, the same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate 20 - 4. 

"Yes, for love and equality," Espero said during the roll call vote.

The following senators voted yes: 
- Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D - West Maui, South Maui)
- Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D - Downtown, Nuuanu, Liliha) 
- Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D - Wheeler, Wahiawa, Schofield) 
- Sen. J. Kalani English (D - Molokai, Lanai, Upcountry Maui, Hana)
- Sen. Will Espero (D - Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point)
- Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D - Kakaako, McCully, Waikiki) 
- Sen. Josh Green (D - Naalehu, Kailua-Kona)
- Sen. Clayton Hee (D - Heeia, Laie, Waialua)
- Sen. David Ige (D - Pearl Harbor, Pearl City, Aiea)
- Sen. Les Ihara, Jr. (D - Moiliili, Kaimuki, Palolo)
- Sen. Gilbert Kahele (D - Hilo)
- Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D - Waihee, Wailuku, Kahului)
- Sen. Michelle Kidani (D - Mililani, Waikele, Kunia) 
- Sen. Clarence Nishihara (D - Waipahu, Pearl City)
- Sen. Russell Ruderman (D - Puna)
- Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D - Kalaeloa, Waianae, Makaha)
- Sen. Malama Solomon (D - Naalehu, Kailua-Kona)
- Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D - Makiki, Tantalus, Manoa_
- Sen. Jill Tokuda (D - Kailua, Kaneohe)
- Sen. Laura Thielen (D - Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, Kailua)

The following senators voted no:
- Sen. Mike Gabbard (D - Kapolei, Makakilo)
- Vice President Ronald Kouchi (D - Kauai, Niihau)
- Sen. Sam Slom (R - Diamond Head, Kahala, Hawaii Kai)
- President Donna Mercado Kim (D - Kalihi Valley, Moanalua, Halawa) 

Senator Glenn Wakai (D - Kalihi, Salt Lake, Aliamanu) was excused from the vote, due to a death in the family. 

Following the vote, ACLU Legal Director Lois Perrin said, "We are cautiously optimistic.  This is a great moment for Hawai'i.  This is the beginning of a terrific step forward.  We have been debating this issue for over 20 years and the Senate has taken a significant step to make sure that we will have the freedom to marry in Hawai'i.  We commend the Senate and Chair Hee, specifically, for really exhibiting true leadership this week in this movement."

"I think the public should be disappointed, I'm not.  I mean it was all scripted.  Everything was known before we got here.  This really was a drama," Sen. Slom said. 

SB 1 is already making it's way through the House.  It passed it's first reading, but not without a fight and a lot of political posturing.  It now advances to both the Judiciary and Finance committees for a public hearing, which has been scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. in the State Capitol auditorium. 

House leadership has indicated they plan to amend the bill's religious exemptions.  If they do, the Senate will need to approve that version.

"The Senate cares very deeply about the Constitutional protections, which includes sexual orientate.  If the House is entertaining an idea that would open that up to the detriment of that protected class, the Senate may have to reconsider how it takes up that issue," said Hee. 

Hawaii News Now asked Senate officials to review the Judiciary committee testimony.  They say approximately 425 people testified in person, while there was almost 4,000 pages of online testimony submitted by the deadline on Sunday, October 27 at 10:30 a.m.  Senate officials say on-time testimony totaled 3,459 and of that number: 1,386 were for (40%) and 2,073 were against (60%).  However, according to Senate Communications Assistant Director Cassandra Harris, "There wasn't enough time or the means to go through all the testimony and determine within the opposed whether people were in fact opposed to SB1 or whether they were just opposed to having the special session."

When asked why the bill advanced out of committee despite a majority of the testimony being in opposition, Judiciary Chair Senator Clayton Hee said an issue of minority civil rights cannot be decided by the majority.

"If that were the case, women wouldn't have the right to vote and schools wouldn't be desegregated," Hee said. 

 

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