Marriage equality bill makes a second tour of the Senate Floor in Hawaii

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The Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 has passed a joint House committee vote after nearly fifty-seven hours of testimony and three amendments and has been sent to the House floor for a vote, with the possibility of being passed and made into law as early as November 8.

The three amendments were made in response to testimony presented before members of the House Judiciary and Finance Committees over the five-day public hearing; one deletes the language that governed how children of gay couples could establish Native Hawai’ian parentage to qualify for state benefits, another moves the date that same-sex marriages can take place to December 5, and the last expands the exemption that protects the right of religious institutions to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings.

Religious Right

The amendment is modeled after the language used in the state of Connecticut, and applies to both for-profit and non-profit institutions, protecting them from any legal consequences should they refuse to perform a wedding for same-sex couples.

“The biggest amendment, the most important amendment, was expanding the religious exemption. It’s based on the Connecticut language—of the states that have same-sex marriage, Connecticut is one of the broadest exemptions,” explained House Judiciary Committee Chair, Representative Karl Rhoads reports Hawai’i News Now.

The amendment to the bill now states that religious businesses are exempt from providing “goods, service, or its facilities for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of its religious beliefs or faith.”

While the language is modeled after the broadest exemption passed so far, some in the state felt that it wasn’t wide enough, comparing the passage of same-sex marriage to totalitarian rule.

“Applying exemptions only to religious organizations prevents businesses, especially our small businesses and individuals, from expressing their religious and conscientious belief. The chilling effect from this would fundamentally change our society and turn Hawai’i into arguably a totalitarian state,” said the Judiciary Committee Vice Chair, Representative Sharon Har.

Native Hawaiians

Many in opposition felt that the same-sex marriage bill would give undue Native Hawaiian status to children of queer couples, so the newly amended bill eliminates the language that explained how gay couples could establish Native Hawai’ian parentage for their children.

“We looked at the parental issue, we broadened the religious exemption—those were all because of some of the testimony that came out and some of the concerns shared by the Representatives,” said the Finance Committee Chair, Representative Sylvia Luke.

The state of Hawai’i formally recognizes Native Hawaiian people as “the only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli people of Hawai’i,” after the Hawai’ian Recognition Bill (1520) was signed into law in 2011. The law affirms Native Hawai’ians as the first nation of the islands, and provides Native Hawai’ians with the opportunity form a new nation within the state.

Vote

The Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 passed with a vote of 18-12 on Tuesday, November 5, and will now go back to the Senate floor for a 2nd hearing and vote, as required because of the new amendments.

If the amended bill passes in the Senate, there will be a forty-eight hour hold before the Hawai’i House of Representatives takes a third reading and final vote, which could take place November 8 at the earliest.

Since the Hawai’ian Senate already approved an earlier version of the bill last week, major opposition is not anticipated, unless it finds fault with the amendments added by the joint House Committee. Governor Neil Abercrombie, who called the special legislative session in October in order to pass the bill, expressed his support for it and new amendments in a joint release with Attorney General David Louie.

“The bill as amended is legally sound and is in accord with the Hawaii State Constitution,” reads the General Statement.

“We urge the Legislature to pass this bill, which will provide marriage equity and fully recognize religious beliefs in that context.”

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