Hawaii senators who had vowed to rescue a stranded gay civil unions bill from a deadlocked committee and pass it this legislative session have begun to backpeddle.

House Bill 444, which would grant gay and lesbian couples all the rights of marriage, was marooned on February 25 when it deadlocked on a 3-3 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The final tally came after a grueling 18 hour marathon hearing session that ended at 3AM.

Even before the votes were in Senate leaders had begun discussing the possibility of rescuing the bill out of committee for a full vote on the Senate floor. The bill sailed through the House on a 33 to 17 vote.

“Pulling something from committee is an extraordinary situation,” state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser said two weeks ago. “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 override a veto by the governor, if needed.

“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 leaders must wait 10 days before initiating such a plan, and have till the end of the legislative session to consider it. Tuesday is the first day they could act on a rescue plan.

But over the weekend, senators started voicing their concerns over such a maneuver. Senate leaders now say they are looking to increase the number of votes needed to save the bill from one-third to half of the Senate chamber.

And one senator has floated the idea of diluting the bill to counter the notion that they are sanctioning gay marriage.

Democratic Senator Will Espero has suggested amending the bill to strip it of adoption and other parental rights.

A massive anti-gay show of force leading up to and during the committee proceedings appears to have given senators pause to reconsider. The majority of testimony heard at the hearing was against the bill.

A 6,000-strong crowd of protesters attended a church-backed rally held at the Capitol the Sunday before the committee convened. Participants wore red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ and cited Scripture as reason for their opposition to civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

On Saturday, 2,000 supporters of the gay civil unions bill held a candlelight vigil in downtown Honolulu, hoping to keep the bill alive this legislative session.

“[W]e certainly need the rights because gay couples have families and kids and when something goes wrong, like for everyone else, the law is there to support them,” Lino Laure, of the Family Equality Coalition, told ABC affiliate KITV.

“I'm hopeful in the end, the majority can come together and reach a consensus,” Hooser told The Associated Press.