News (USA)

Hawaii lawmakers move same-sex marriage bill to final House vote

HONOLULU — The Hawaii House on Wednesday night moved forward a bill to legalize gay marriage to the chamber’s final vote after a nearly 11-hour hearing that featured political maneuvering and chanting crowds outside the gallery.

In a roll call vote, House lawmakers voted 30-18 to move forward the bill for a final reading, with three members excused. The bill will go to a last vote on Friday.

Oskar Garcia, APLawmakers discuss gay marriage on the House floor at the Hawaii Capitol in Honolulu on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.
Oskar Garcia, AP
Lawmakers discuss gay marriage on the House floor at the Hawaii Capitol in Honolulu on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

If the measure passes the House, it will have to be approved by the state Senate because of three amendments added during a House committee hearing.

The vote came after several rejected attempts on Wednesday to modify and change the bill, plus smaller votes that revealed majority support to move along the measure.

“There weren’t any surprises – we expected strong numbers,” House Speaker Joseph Souki said after the session.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said he has been in discussions with leading Senate lawmakers and they are aware o f the House amendments.

“The Senate does not want to take this bill to conference committee. I think they are very open to agreeing to our House draft,” Saiki said.

If the sessions go as planned, the House will vote on the bill Friday, allowing the Senate to give its final approval Tuesday before forwarding the bill to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called the special session. Abercrombie has said he approves of the bill as amended by the House.

Same-sex marriages would begin in Hawaii on Dec. 2.

House lawmakers took turns giving testimony on Wednesday that ranged from sarcastic to emotional as the bill faced its latest crucial test.

One lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Jo Jordan of Waianae, said on the floor that she would oppose the bill – despite her thoughts and beliefs and gay marriage potentially benefiting her personally.

“No, nobody’s going to beat me up. Nobody’s going to throw me out of my (LGBT) community – I’m not quite sure of that,” Jor dan said.

But Jordan said she set aside her beliefs when she listened to five days of testimony during a joint committee hearing and listened with an open heart. Much of spoken public testimony during the hearing came in opposition to the bill.

“I might vote against something that I personally believe in. I personally believe I should have the right,” Jordan said. “You know how hard it is for me to say no? I have to say no.”

Session started Wednesday morning and immediately went into recess, with majority members in the Democratic-heavy House meeting in caucus to discuss amendments to a bill that spurred five days of public testimony at a committee hearing.

When lawmakers returned, chants of “let the people vote” from opponents of gay marriage disrupted discussion of changes proposed on the floor.

“Excuse me, the door’s supposed to be closed,” Souki said as he tried to keep the meeting in order.

Two House committees had already amended the bill to delaying its start date and slightly broaden a religious exemption that covers clergy and religious organizations. The committees also deleted language from the bill that related to how children of gay couples could qualify for Native Hawaiian benefits.

Lawmakers proposed even more changes on the floor of the House.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, a Democrat who has said he has reservations about the bill, proposed an amendment to delay discussion so lawmakers could have more flexibility to review more than 20,000 pieces of written testimony and spoken testimony from more than 5,000 people who signed up.

The amendment was rejected by a voice vote, as were two more amendments that proposed wider religious exemptions, including one that said if any part of the law is struck down in court, the whole gay marriage law would be overturned. Amendments to put the question of same-sex marriage to voters through a constitutional amendment twice failed in roll call votes , as did an effort to postpone the bill indefinitely.

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