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Hawaii lawmakers, church leaders meet on exemptions in gay marriage bill

Hawaii lawmakers, church leaders meet on exemptions in gay marriage bill

HONOLULU — Religious leaders in Hawaii have been meeting with state lawmakers about a religious exemption in pending gay marriage legislation, balancing their opposition to the bill with trying to protect their interests as much as possible should it pass.

Leaders trying to strengthen the exemptions still mainly want to persuade the Legislature to vote down the measure, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

gay-hawaiiLawmakers will consider a marriage equality bill in a special session starting Oct. 28. The session was called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The current draft exempts religious organizations and related facilities from hosting gay marriages if the facilities aren’t used primarily as for-profit businesses.

Gary Secor, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, said the diocese doesn’t want to make it easier on legislators who are undecided.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union and other supporters of the gay marriage bill believe it can include strong religious protections.

Sen. Clayton Hee, a Democrat and chairman of the judiciary committee, said lawmakers are trying to balance several constitutional protections. He said any religious exemption would have to align with the state’s Constitution.

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“We’ll listen to the ideas that people put forward with respect to religious exemptions,” Hee said. “However, our purpose is to put forth a proposal that meets the Constitution.”

Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican who opposes the bill, said he thinks a stronger exemption is only a fallback plan.

McDermott is a leader in a coalition called Let the People Decide, which is seeking to have lawmakers reject the bill and instead put the issue to vote in an election.

“I certainly believe, in all my heart, that if it was put to a vote of the people, they would not vote for it. But that’s not where we’re at,” McDermott said. “So we need to create the environment where that will happen.”

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