(Update) Hawaii Special Session for SB1 – Hawaii Marriage Equity Act: passed by the Senate, debate in the House

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The Hawaii Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve SB 1, the Hawaii Marriage Equity Act, casting the decision as an important leg in the long march toward equality for gays and lesbians. Senate passes bill (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, subscription required):

EqualThe 20-4 vote sent the bill to the state House, where the House Judiciary and Finance committees will hold a public hearing today. If the committees amend the bill, which is likely in order to win over some House lawmakers worried about the scope of a religious exemption, then the bill would return to the Senate for another review.

The Hawaii House on Thursday embarked on a
marathon hearing where thousands of people would be given a two-minute
platform to offer their opinions. Same-sex marriage testimony attracts thousands (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, subscription required):

The House Judiciary and Finance committees took testimony late into the evening, and House leaders made a commitment to extend the hearing into today and the weekend if necessary to hear all who had signed up
by midnight to speak.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports, Hawaii House hears from public on gay marriage:

More than half of Hawaii’s House lawmakers spent Halloween listening
to public sentiments as they consider legalizing gay marriage, giving
some hints of how they might modify a bill already passed by the Senate.

Meanwhile,
a Republican lawmaker who’s against the bill and has expressed
frustration with the process is hoping to disrupt the special session
with a lawsuit.

State Sen. Bob McDermott told The Associated Press on Thursday that he’s trying to get a judge “to shut this whole thing down.”

[Shades of Missouri GOP senate candidate Todd Akin: if the rape of a woman is "a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."]

McDermott
is one of 30 House lawmakers on two committees holding a joint hearing
on the issue. Nearly 4,000 people had signed up before the meeting
started to testify in two-minute increments, with signups being accepted
until midnight. The hearing was expected to go at least that late, then
resume today if needed.

“Anyone who signs up by midnight will be
allowed to testify,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House
Judiciary Committee, at the start of the hearing.

With 3,875
signed up to testify, testimony could take more than 129 hours — more
than five days with no breaks — if speakers fully use their allotted
time. Some speakers moved quickly in the first several hours of the
hearing, standing on their written testimony. But many used their full
time and went over despite an alarm beeping, stopping only when
interrupted and cut off.

“It’s the members” prolonging the hearing with questions, not the public, House Speaker Joseph Souki told The Associated Press.

House
spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said the judiciary and finance committees
received 15,000 pieces of written testimony before the meeting began.
The website accepting testimony went down briefly because of the
traffic, but the committees accepted testimony by email and in person
while staff restored it, Tanaka said.

* * *

McDermott’s lawsuit focused on a 1998 same-sex marriage ballot
measure, which legislators are now relying on to make decisions on the
issue. McDermott’s lawsuit claims the Office of Elections instructions
at the time gave voters the impression that a “yes” vote would mean
reserving marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

The bill passed the Senate easily Wednesday. The chamber is dominated by Democrats, with only one Republican.

House
Majority Leader Scott Saiki has said it’s likely the chamber will amend
the bill to change religious exemptions. The Senate bill exempts
ministers and other clergy — but not for-profit businesses — from having
to perform gay wedding ceremonies.

* * *

The House is made up of 44 Democrats and seven Republicans. While
Souki has said he believes there’s enough support to pass gay marriage,
some Democrats plan to vote no on the bill.

Sen. Clayton Hee,
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after the Senate vote
that he told House leaders senators may not support expanded religious
exemptions if they allow gay couples to be discriminated against as a
separate class.

If the bill passes in its currently form, ceremonies for same-sex couples would begin Nov. 18.

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