The Hawaii House gave final approval Nov. 8 to a marriage equality bill, putting Hawaii on track to become the 16th state plus the District of Columbia to allow same-sex couples to marry. The tally was 30 to 19.
The voting and amendment process was a raucous one, with numerous calls for recess as member wrestled over rules, time limits and disputes over fair play. All the while, the sound of protesters chanting and pounding on things could frequently be heard in the background on the web stream and grew louder as the moment for the final vote neared.
Local reporters on the scene were posting Twitter notices that suggested the atmosphere outside was sometimes very tense, despite the use of barriers to separate supporters and opponents. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser also noted that Gov. Neil Abercrombie entered the gallery at about 3:40 in the afternoonto cheers and booing from visitors in the gallery.
The intensity of public interest in the bill has been extraordinary, by the standards of the nine other states where a marriage equality bill has been passed. One openly gay legislator, Rep. Jo Jordan, announced earlier in the week that she was voting against the bill. Speaking on the floor last night, she said she has been "blasted" for saying she is opposed to the bill but that she does not want to be "the poster child."
"I can not rise up benefits with the possibility of eroding religious protections and freedom of conscience," she said.
But there was no shortage of straight legislators to stand up for the bill. One, Rep. Mark Takai, said his office received 7,200 messages in favor of the bill and 6,300 opposed. He said he has personally has been the target of many "hateful tactics" for supporting the bill. Several of the pro-marriage equality representatives said they had received death threats and one opponent said she was "verbally assaulted" by a prominent gay activist.
Rep. Tom Browera single straight man who lives in Honolulusaid, "This bill does not redefine marriage for God or the church. It does not make gay the new straight."
"How many more gay people must God create before we realize he wants them here?" asked Rep. Kaniela Ing.
The bill now goes back to the state Senate for concurrence, a vote that many expect to go through without debate on Tuesday, Nov. 12. Even though Abercrombie has promised to sign the legislation, due to go into effect Dec. 2, there may be additional battles ahead.
In response to a legal challenge from an opponent of the bill, a state circuit court judge in Hawaii said Thursday that, if the legislature passes and the governor signs the marriage equality bill, he would entertain the challenge to the new law. According to the Star-Advertiser, Judge Karl Sakamoto indicated he thinks the bill may be in conflict with a constitutional amendment voters passed in 1998. That amendment read, "Shall the Constitution of the state of Hawaii be amended to specify that the legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples?"
The opponent who filed the legal challenge was Rep. Bob McDermott, who led the opposition on the floor. He has attempted numerous tactics to delay consideration of the bill throughout the House proceedings. He offered an amendment to create a task force to study impact of allowing same-sex marriage before voting on the bill, characterizing it as a "way out" of the divisions that have erupted among the people of Hawaii. But Brower said the measure would perpetuate the division already evident over the issue.
Opponent Rep. Richard Fale said that the bill has caused more divisions than it is worth, saying reports estimated the state would gain $270 million from allowing same-sex couples to marry there.
Opponent Rep. Sharon Har added that it would likely hurt the economy because Asian tourists would be less likely to come.
"This is not about money, this is about equal rights," replied bill supporter Rep. Cynthia Thielen.
The task force amendment was defeated by voice vote.
Rep. Gene Ward then introduced an amendment to give an "opt out" for teachers and parents of children for any school curriculum acknowledging same-sex marriage.
"We don't have to go to Massachusetts to see their curriculum," said Ward. "The momma bears are demanding, 'Protect our kids,'" said Ward. He continued, talking about a curriculum that he found troublesome that used explicit terms to discuss sex, such as "penile sex, penis entering vagina."
McDermott said Ward's amendment was necessary to prevent gay couples from filing a lawsuit when curricula examples of families don't include same-sex families.
"It's coming. If we don't institute protections, parents will lose their rights," said McDermott.
But bill supporter Rep. Roy Takumi said regulations are already in place that enables parents to opt out of curricula they are uncomfortable with.
Ward's amendment, and more than a dozen others hostile to the underlying bill, all failed by voice vote, with marriage equality supporters pointing out that most of them were duplicating previously failed amendments.
From live webstream of the proceedings, it was apparent that the large House gallery was filled with onlookers at 10:20 a.m. Hawaii time. The final vote took place more than 10 hours later.
The Star-Advertiser reported that the opponents and supporters of the bill were divided inside the House gallery so neither would have a numerical advantage. The paper said police had also erected more substantial barricades outside "to prevent demonstrators from banging on or poking flagpoles on the windows to the chambers." Demonstrators banging on the windows to the chamber created so much noise earlier in the week, it was difficult for legislators to be heard, even by those in the gallery.
The vote in Hawaii caps off a dramatic week for LGBT, a week that began with Illinois clearing its marriage equality law on Tuesday and the U.S. Senate, for the first time in the bill's 19-year history, approving the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Nov. 7.
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