A gay civil union bill is proving that the issue remains volcanic in the state of Hawaii eleven years after voters agreed overwhelmingly (70%) to ban gay marriage in their state constitution.

Ten days after the Hawaii House approved legislation that would create civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in the state, the Senate will take up the issue. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on House Bill 444 begin tomorrow.

Opponents of the bill headed to the Hawaii State Capitol on Sunday to rally against the bill. Thousands attended a church-backed rally where speakers citied Scripture as reason for their opposition to civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Participants wore red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ and opposition to the bill, Dennis Arakaki, interim executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, told the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

“We don't want gay marriage as according to the scripture of God,” Johnathan Dana, who was attending the rally, told KGMB9 News. “God made man and woman to be husband and wife, not man and man and woman and woman.”

Backers of gay civil unions have scheduled their own rally for this morning. It is being organized by the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, whose membership includes Christian, Jewish and Buddhist churches.

“We support civil rights, social justice and the dignity of all people,” said the Rev. Dr. John R. Heidel. “We basically see this not as a religious issue but as a civil-rights issue, and so we're working for equal rights of all people.”

But even before the committee opens, the bill appears comatose, and Senate leaders are discussing “extraordinary” measures to revive it.

Committee approval hinged on a single undecided voter: State Senator Robert Bunda. Bunda, a Democrat from North Shore, recently said he would oppose the measure. His no vote would effectively deadlock the bill at 3-3.

“I think for us in Hawaii, traditional marriage is still the majority sentiment,” he told the Honolulu Advertiser. “And that's how I have come to the conclusion that I have.”

Bunda, who is considering a run for lieutenant governor in 2010, has become the focal point of an intense lobbying effort from both sides of the issue.

He said he has received more than 1,400 e-mails, the majority urging him to vote against the bill.

Over the weekend, however, Senate leaders began discussing the possibility of pulling the bill out of committee for a full vote.

“Pulling something from committee is an extraordinary situation,” state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser said. “However, we have the ability to do that in the rules for extraordinary situations.”

The Honolulu Advertiser quotes Hooser as saying he believes he has the supermajority in the Senate needed to overcome a veto.

“I fundamentally believe that it's the right thing to do,” he told the paper. “This is an issue of civil rights and equal rights. It's about treating people equally. It's about contracts under law. This is not legalizing same-sex marriage.”

Senate committee hearing on House Bill 444 begin Tuesday, February 24 at 9AM at the state capitol.