Hawaiian Lawmakers have gathered at the State Capitol in Honolulu on Monday, October 28 for a special legislative session to consider several bills, of which the most highly anticipated is the proposal to legalize same-sex marriages in the state of Hawaii.
The proposal has the support of the state’s Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie, who has pledged to sign the marriage bill. He is known for signing the state’s Civil Union bill in 2011, after his predecessor, Republican Linda Lingle vetoed it.
“I think Hawaii has always celebrated its sense of Aloha for one another,” Abercrombie said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “This is a question of equity.”
The move to further the rights of the LGBT community spurred rallies – for and against same-sex marriage – at the State Capitol on Monday, just hours before the legislative session was due to begin, reports Hawaii News Now.
A gathering organized by the Gay, Lesbian, & Transgender caucus of Hawaii’s democratic party drew hundreds, with singer Willie K entertaining the crowd, and lawmakers speaking to the historic moment that such legislation represents.
“I think we are going to make history here,” said state Rep. Chris Lee, D-Kailua.
“This is a big change for the state but it is the right thing to do, to end discrimination, to treat everyone with respect and Aloha we all deserve.”
The New Hope Church and New Hope Chapel Nanakuli hosted its own prayer vigil at Iolani Palace moments later, where opponents of same-sex marriage gathered and prayed and prayed that their rights would not be infringed upon.
“It’s going against our religious freedoms and religious rights. It doesn’t give us the freedom to worship and preach what we believe,” Ellie Kapihe of Windward Missionary Church in Kaneohe told Hawaii News Now.
The debate in Hawaii mirrors the arguments for and against same-sex marriage across the country, where proponents argue for equal access to benefits afforded married couples, such as tax breaks, hospital visits, and legal custody of children, while opponents defend the institution of marriage from a moral and religious standpoint.
The bill is expected to pass the state Senate 21-4, but there is a question as to whether it will achieve the required 26 votes it needs in order to pass the House.
HNN reports that out of 45 State Representatives polled, 27 said they would vote “yes” on the measure, with 14 planning to vote “no,” and one left undecided.
The proposed bill comes after years of fighting for same-sex marriage by LGBT advocacy groups in the state, an effort which has finally found the support it needs to move forward with equal rights legislation.
The change comes after the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the basis of constitutional right to equal rights for all citizens, which inspired some Hawaiian lawmakers to change their minds on the issue.
“I’m a yes,” Representative Mark Takai said to HNN.
Takai, who had previously voted no on civil unions, says his position has evolved in light of the changes that have happened on a national level, and is excited to make a difference in his state.
“Just like a lot of other people throughout this nation and also throughout this state, I think for me personally I’ve gone through a process and evolution,” Takai said.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity this next week to vote yes, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Live tweeting from the special legislative session on Monday October 28, Hawaii United For Marriage reported many sentiments of support for same-sex marriage, aligning the equal access to legal rights as an essential Hawaiian belief.
Justice Levison, who served on the Hawaiian State Supreme Court from 1992-2008 is quoted as saying “This is the land of Aloha.. and this is our chance to live it.”
State Representative Colleen Hanabusa added, “we as a state can no longer call ourselves a place of Aloha if we continue to tell couples they cannot celebrate their unions.”