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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Hawaii

2013-SEP/OCT:
Governor calls special session of the Legislature.
Anti-gay religious leaders meet with legislators.
Informal poll on discrimination by churches.
SSM Bill SB1 introduced to the Legislature.
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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2013-SEP-09: Hawaii governor calls special session for SSM bill:

The Legislature itself was unable to call a special session because both the House and Senate would have had to pass the resolution by a two-thirds majority, and the necessary votes simply were not available. However, the Hawaiian governor is also empowered to call a special session on his or her own authority.

On SEP-09, Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) did call for a special legislative session to consider passing a bill legalizing gay marriage. The session begins on OCT-28 and is expected to last for about 5 days. Addressing a news conference at the Capital building he said:

"Every variation on a view with regard to the issue of marriage and equitable treatment for those engaged in marriage has been aired, has been analyzed, has been discussed. No one has been left out or has been marginalized in the process to this point. ... We're trying to keep from imposing one set of views on each other that would end up with conflict and confrontation. We think that this bill achieves that delicate balance."

Attorney General David Louie said that if the bill is passed quickly that same-sex couples could obtain marriage licenses in time to be married on 2013-NOV-18. 1,2

The bill has an excellent chance of passing in the Senate where there is only one Republican among 24 Democrats. In the House, there are 7 Republicans and 44 Democrats. Passage there is not a sure thing. Governor Abercrombie believes that it would not pass the House if the clause guaranteeing the right of faith groups to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples were not included.

Even though similar exemptions are included in all or essentially all marriage laws in those states where same-sex marriage has been legalized, they are truly redundant. That is because they merely replicate the exemptions specified in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Still, they soothe the concerns of religious conservatives who worry about being sued for discrimination.

The bill would require 26 votes to pass the House. A telephone poll of representatives that Honolulu Civil Beat reported on SEP-06 found:

  • 27 "yes" votes, including one lone Republican.
  • 15 "no" votes.
  • 9 undecided. 3

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2013-OCT-05: Conservative religious leaders meeting with legislators:

All or essentially all conservative religious leaders are opposed to bill SB1 and are actively working to assure its defeat. However, some of them realize that it might become law. Thus they are trying to negotiate the addition of religious exemption clauses to the bill that give clergy and faith groups the widest latitude to discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples in the event that the bill does pass. However, such negotiation can be counter-productive to their wishes to maintain marriage inequality in Hawaii. If more protections are included in the bill, there is the possibility that more legislators will vote in its favor.

Gary Secor, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, said:

"Our position is that we want the bill voted down. We’re not supporting this language modification, especially if it would give any legislator an excuse to vote for the bill." 9

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2013-OCT-06: Informal poll by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper:

During OCT-06, the newspaper sampled public opinion on protections of religious groups who want to discriminate against same-sex couples. They asked the question:

"Should religious organizations that rent their facilities to the public be allowed to reject events related to same-sex marriage?

Results were:

  • 57% voted No
  • 43% voted Yes. 11
Number of opinions registered: 4,388. Margin of error: ±1.5 percentage points. However, the poll may well be less accurate than indicated because the persons who participated in the poll are probably not a random sampling of adults.

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2013-OCT-22: The SSM bill is registered:

Bill SB1, the "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013" was filed on OCT-22 and will be introduced to the Legislature on OCT-28, at the start of the the special session.

The government web site's description is that the bill:

"Recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex. Extends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive." 4

As introduced, the bill would be effective on 2013-NOV-18. 5

  • The bill first discusses the intent of the Legislature to treat same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples equally. The bill:
    • Acknowledges the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2013-JUN-26 that declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

    • Notes that this decision, for the first time, gives same-sex legally married couples access to the same federal rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities that opposite-sex married couples already have.

    • Notes that Hawaii already allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions which give them access to the same state rights, protections and responsibilities that opposite-sex married couples have in Hawaii. However, the federal government does not recognize civil unions and thus excludes couples in civil unions from federal rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities.

    • Notes that it is the Legislature's intent to allow same-sex couples to marry under state laws and thus gain access to both state and federal programs.

  • It then tackles the question of protecting clergy and religious institutions who want to actively discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them. The bill:
    • Notes that the State constitution and U.S. Constitution already allows clergy or other officer of any religious organization to refuse to marry any couple for any reason with impunity. Thus, any religious exemption from existing state human rights legislation that would be provided by this bill is truly redundant. However many religious conservatives are unaware of the Constitution's protection and are deeply concerned that their faith group may have to treat all couples equally. It repeats this protection in Section 572-E of the bill.

    • Notes that a religious organization is free to discriminate by refusing to allow them to hold a marriage ceremony in their facilities or grounds, as long as the organization does not use their facilities primarily as a for-profit businesses. It specifies this protection in detail at Section 572-F of the bill.

  • It modifies state statutes to:
    • Allow couples who are already civil union partners or reciprocal beneficiaries with each other to marry each other, assuming they are eligible. Persons that are too closely related, or too young, or currently married, or currently in a civil union would not be allowed to marry someone else.

    • Either interpret any gender-specific terms in existing legislation -- such as husband, wife, widow, widower, -- to gender-neutral terms, or actually rewrite them accordingly. For example, "man and woman" in the existing legislation becomes "parties."

    • Treat same-sex and opposite-sex married couples equally with regard to parental rights.

    • Treat all married couples equally in any state law that is linked to federal law.

    • Change Section 572-1 which limits marriage to one man and one woman to "two individuals without regard to gender."

    • Recognize same-sex marriages that have been legally solemnized elsewhere.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Hawaii governor calls special session to consider gay marriage bill," Associated Press, 2013-SEP-10, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  2. Abby Ohlheiser, "Hawaii's Governor Calls a Special Session Just to Legalize Gay Marriage," The Atlantic Wire, 2013-SEP-09, at: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/
  3. Nathan Eagle & Chad Blair, "Gay Marriage in Hawaii could be reality," Honolulu Civil Beat, 2013-SEP-06, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  4. "SB1: Relating to equal rights," Hawaii State Legislature, as on 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
  5. Text of SB1 is at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/ This is a accursed PDF file, the bane of every webmasters existence.
  6. Mileka Lincoln, "Same-sex marriage bill officially filed, first public hearing scheduled," Hawaii News Now, 2013-OCT-23, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  7. Oskar Garcia, "Hawaii to become next stage in gay marriage debate," Miami Herald, 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.miamiherald.com/
  8. Oskar Garcia, "Hawaii to become next stage in gay marriage debate," NewsNet5, 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.newsnet5.com/
  9. "Churches, lawmakers meet on gay marriage," West Hawaii Today, 2013-OCT-05, at: http://westhawaiitoday.com/
  10. "Continuing coverage: Gay marriage debate," Hawaii News Now, 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  11. "Honolulu Star-Advertiser Poll Archive," at: http://hawaii-newspaper.com/ Scan through listings to find one for 2013-OCT-06

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Copyright ©2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2012-OCT-07
Latest update: 2013-OCT-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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