Hawaii House Hears From Public on Gay Marriage
More than half of Hawaii’s House lawmakers spent Halloween listening to public sentiments as they consider legalizing gay marriage, giving some hints of how they might modify a bill already passed by the Senate.
Meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker who’s against the bill and has expressed frustration with the process is hoping to disrupt the special session with a lawsuit.
State Sen. Bob McDermott told The Associated Press on Thursday that he’s trying to get a judge "to shut this whole thing down."
McDermott is one of 30 House lawmakers on two committees holding a joint hearing on the issue. Nearly 4,000 people had signed up before the meeting started to testify in two-minute increments, with signups being accepted until midnight. The hearing was expected to go at least that late, then resume Friday if needed.
"Anyone who signs up by midnight will be allowed to testify," said Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, at the start of the hearing.
With 3,875 signed up to testify, testimony could take more than 129 hours - more than five days with no breaks - if speakers fully use their allotted time. Some speakers moved quickly in the first several hours of the hearing, standing on their written testimony. But many used their full time and went over despite an alarm beeping, stopping only when interrupted and cut off.
"It’s the members" prolonging the hearing with questions, not the public, House Speaker Joseph Souki told The Associated Press.
House spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said the judiciary and finance committees received 15,000 pieces of written testimony before the meeting began. The website accepting testimony went down briefly because of the traffic, but the committees accepted testimony by email and in person while staff restored it, Tanaka said.
Proponents and opponents of gay marriage lined a basement hallway in the Capitol while waiting to speak, while others waved signs, prayed and solicited car honks from the Capitol rotunda and street.
Melanie Vakalabure, a 26-year-old mother expecting a second child, said through tears that she’s "terrified" of the implications of allowing gay marriage. She said she’s uneasy that state and other local officials weren’t able to answer questions about effects on education and other parts of society in other states where gay marriage is legal.
"If they don’t know what’s going to happen, why are we rushing this?" she said.
Alan Spector, of Kaneohe, said the committee has no business makings laws about religion.
"People in this room that say they love me but want to deny me those basic rights to stay together with my husband. That isn’t love," he said.
McDermott’s lawsuit focused on a 1998 same-sex marriage ballot measure, which legislators are now relying on to make decisions on the issue. McDermott’s lawsuit claims the Office of Elections instructions at the time gave voters the impression that a "yes" vote would mean reserving marriage to opposite-sex couples only.
The bill passed the Senate easily Wednesday. The chamber is dominated by Democrats, with only one Republican.
House Majority Leader Scott Saiki has said it’s likely the chamber will amend the bill to change religious exemptions. The Senate bill exempts ministers and other clergy - but not for-profit businesses - from having to perform gay wedding ceremonies.
House members on the committee discussed everything from Native Hawaiian rights and common law marriage to sex education and how things might play out in courts.
The House is made up of 44 Democrats and seven Republicans. While Souki has said he believes there’s enough support to pass gay marriage, some Democrats plan to vote no on the bill.
Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after the Senate vote that he told House leaders senators may not support expanded religious exemptions if they allow gay couples to be discriminated against as a separate class.
Because testimony was to go into the night, lawmakers planned to give candy to trick-or-treating children who were spending prime candy-hunting hours of Halloween at the Capitol.
If the bill passes as currently written, ceremonies for same-sex couples would begin Nov. 18.