Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hawaii lawmakers cautious on future of civil union bill

HONOLULU, Hawaii - A bill that would allow civil unions for same-sex couples remains stalled in committee with Senate leaders uncertain how to move forward, reported. Last month, after 15 hours of hearings, the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee tied 3-3 on whether to advance the bill to the full Senate.

Senate leaders could move the bill from the committee directly to the Senate floor for a vote if they had nine of the Senate’s 25 members agreeing.

Privately, at least nine senators have told LGBT groups they support the legislation, but are fearful of a voter backlash if they approve the seldom-used maneuver to force a full Senate vote.

That has left Senate leaders with trying to either push for a committee re-vote or get a majority - at least 13 Senators - to agree to move it directly to the full Senate.

Right now it appears there is no consensus on either plan.

Following a caucus, majority Democrats said they would not rush a Senate decision.

It now appears likely they will wait until work on other bills is finished next week.

The legislation passed the state House last month on a 33 - 17 vote.

The measure would legalize civil unions with all of the benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage. It also would allow domestic partnerships entered into in other states where they are legal. Marriages from Massachusetts and Connecticut would be regarded as civil unions.

Under the legislation, same-sex couples would have to obtain a license and then have the civil union performed by a judge, a retired judge or a member of the clergy.

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court was the first in the country to rule that barring same-sex marriage could be a violation of the state constitutional protection of equal rights.

In 1997, the Legislature passed a domestic partner law allowing gay couples to register with the state Department of Health. It allowed couples to have rights as reciprocal beneficiaries in hospital visitations, inheritance and property, and the ability to sue for wrongful death.

But in 1998, as calls for same-sex marriage, increased nearly 70 percent of Hawaii voters passed a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.

No comments: