Hawaii Senate Majority Leader Gary
Hooser has pledged he will personally rescue a stranded gay civil
unions bill if none of his colleagues do so by the end of the
legislative session, reports The Garden Island.
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. The bill sailed through the House
on a 33 to 17 vote.
Pulling the bill out of committee and
placing it to a vote by the full Senate requires the approval of
one-third of its members, or 9 senators. Passing the bill would
require a simple majority of 13 senators.
Hooser said he believes that as many as
18 senators would vote in favor of the bill. A large majority he
would need to lean on in the event of a veto by Republican Governor
“As the person who was the sponsor of
the Senate Bill, and as the majority leader ... most would believe
that I would be the appropriate person to make the motion,” Hooser,
a Democrat from Kauai, told the paper. “If there's no consensus,
then I'll make the motion as an individual senator.”
Senators were given pause to reconsider
the bill when the majority of testimony heard by the committee was
against the bill. Over 6,000 anti-gay protesters stormed the Capitol
the Sunday before the hearing convened. Participants of the
church-backed rally wore red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ
and cited Scripture as reasons for their opposition to civil unions
for gay and lesbian couples.
After the committee's deadlocked vote,
Democratic Senator Will Espero suggested amending the bill to strip
it of adoption and other parental rights to counter the notion that
they were sanctioning gay marriage.
As senators increasingly signaled their
hesitancy to pull the bill out of committee, gay activists began to
worry the issue was settled for this year. And possibly for a while.
Better timing for passage of gay rights protections might not come
around again soon. Democrats hold 23 out of 25 Senate seats.
Giving supporters something to cheer
about is a new poll that shows a large majority (81%) of Hawaiians
support equality for gay men and lesbians.
The poll, conducted by Honolulu-based
Qmark Research and Polling and funded by the Family Equality
Coalition, a group advocating for civil unions in the state, found 81
percent of residents agree with the statement: “Committed couples
and their families, regardless of their sexual preference or
orientation, should have the same rights. That's the bottom line –
we should treat people equally.”
Hooser said he'll come to the aid of
the bill, regardless of the numbers.
“I don't believe we should base our
decisions on polls. I'd like to think that the decisions I make are
supported by a majority, but at the end of the day, I have to reach
down deep inside myself and vote for what I think is right. I
believe that it's right to pass this bill and extend equal rights to
all people,” Hooser said.
“I ran for office and I serve because
I want to do good things for the people of Hawaii and I think this is
important,” he added.