House committee hearing on Hawaii gay marriage bill to resume

Oskar Garcia, AP
House lawmakers hold a joint committee hearing on gay marriage at the Hawaii Capitol in Honolulu on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. OSKAR GARCIA [ap]

HONOLULU — A Hawaii House committee hearing on gay marriage took a break early Friday after a 14-hour session, and will resume later in the morning to hear testimony from more than 4,000 people who have yet to speak.

The head of the House judiciary committee broke the special session meeting just after midnight after first announcing plans to continue into the late-night hours. Rep. Karl Rhoads reversed course after complaints from Republican Rep. Gene Ward that testifiers should be allowed to go home.

Oskar Garcia, AP
House lawmakers hold a joint committee hearing on gay marriage at the Hawaii Capitol in Honolulu on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.

“This thing says come back tomorrow. Come on,” said Ward, waving a printed news release from the committee that said the meeting would end at midnight.

Rhoads called a short recess, then announced a few minutes later that testimony would resume less than nine hours later on Friday morning.

The House judiciary and finance committees are considering a bill passed by the state Senate to legalize gay marriage. The legislation is the cen terpiece of a special session called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, with a goal of passing a bill so same-sex couples married in Hawaii can receive federal benefits as granted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

House spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said 5,181 people signed up to testify before midnight, the deadline for those wishing to speak in person.

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Rhoads says 1,000 people either testified or had their number called on Thursday.

It’s not clear how the committees will organize plans for the final 4,181 testifiers to speak, though the timing has implications for the rest of the special session. The director of the Hawaii Health Department has asked for two weeks to implement legislation before ceremonies begin, while the bill itself states ceremonies could begin Nov. 18.

With two minutes allotted for each speaker, the rest of public testimony could take as much as 139 hours – nearly six days if the hearing was to run continuously. Not all test ifiers have been present when their number was called, but many waited in the Hawaii Capitol for several hours for their turn to speak.

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