32 of the 51 members of the Hawaii State House have signed onto a bill that would provide for civil unions in the Aloha State, making it seem likely that the bill will pass this legislative session. The bill would recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages performed in other states and would overturn a 1998 ban on same-sex marriage in the state. The bill had previously stalled in the House, so what changed the legislators minds?
If you guessed “political organizing”, give yourself a mai tai. State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu tells the Honolulu Advertiser that:
“…He believes he will have the votes to move the bill out of his committee, where it has stalled in the past, most recently in 2007. He said part of the difference this session is that gay-rights activists have broadened their outreach to include organized labor, the interfaith community and social-service groups.
“I think for the advocates that support civil unions, clearly, for a lot of them, it’s a compromise” instead of same-sex marriage, he said. “In the past, it was all or nothing. And this year, it has changed a lot, and I think that has helped them. I think they are a little bit more aware of the political process now.”
Many gay rights activists felt cheated two years ago when majority Democrats would not hold a vote on a civil-unions bill in the House Judiciary Committee because it was likely to be defeated.
In the aftermath of that setback, a new group, the Family Equality Coalition, was formed and has quietly been building support for civil unions with groups such as UNITE HERE Local 5, the hotel workers’ union, and the Interfaith Alliance Hawai’i, a collection of religious leaders from different faiths.
Alan Spector, a social worker and co-chair of the Family Equality Coalition, said the long-term goal is to legalize same-sex marriage. But he described the civil-unions bill as significant momentum.
With a majority in the House supportive of civil unions, advocates believe the test will come in the state Senate, where there could be opposition from the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee.
State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-10th (Manoa, McCully), the committee’s chairman, said he would hear the bill if it crosses over from the House. “We’re certainly going to take a look at it,” he said.
On the six-member committee, Taniguchi, state Sen. Dwight Takamine, D-1st (Hamakua, S. Hilo), and state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, D-18th (Waipahu, Crestview, Pearl City), are supportive of civil unions. State Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), and state Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai’i Kai), are opposed.”