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 Linda Lingle.

“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.