The Hawaii Senate has approved a civil
unions bill that grants gay and lesbian couples all the rights,
benefits and obligations of marriage, the Star Bulletin
The 18 to 7 final tally was a stinging
defeat for social conservatives, who cheered last year when the bill
ran aground in a Senate committee after they staged a huge anti-gay
rights rally at the Capitol. The vote's veto-proof majority is a
huge win for backers of gay rights.
The drama over the bill has been
intense. Last year, senators were forced to fish the bill out of
committee during the final days of the legislative session after it
deadlocked on a 3-3 vote. Senators quickly amended the bill to
include both gay and straight couples but the session ended without a
vote on the measure.
This year, lawmakers appeared
determined to deal with the issue during the opening days of the
session in order to keep the effects of the debate from lingering
into the November general election.
In front of a packed Senate gallery
filled with boisterous supporters and opponents of the bill, senators
debated the bill.
“Does this really have to do with
civil rights? The answer is no. It has to do with money,” Senator
Sam Slom, a Republican from Hawaii Kai, said.
But Democratic Senator Roz Baker of
“There are all kinds of families and
all kinds of relationships and they all deserve to be treated equal,”
Activists who lobbied for the bill
cheered its passage.
“We're very pleased that the Hawaii
State Senate took action and passed the civil unions bill today,”
Tambry Young, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, said in a statement. “The
Senate acted with great courage, conviction and integrity. They did
the right thing for all Hawaii's families.”
The amended bill now heads to the
House, which approved the original bill last year in a 33 to 17 vote,
one vote shy of a veto-proof majority.
Republican Governor Linda Lingle has
remained silent on whether she would sign the bill, but Democratic
leaders concede she likely wouldn't, which means the bill must clear
both chambers of the Legislature with a veto-proof majority to remain
Backers looking for a second
overwhelming vote from the Legislature have taken heart in the
remarks of several representatives who have suggested they could
support the amended version. However, House Speaker Calvin Say has
said he is uncertain whether the bill can pass the House a second
Hawaii was the first state to approve a
gay marriage ban in 1998 after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in
favor of gay marriage.