Governor calls a special session on gay marriage
HONOLULU – Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday called for a special legislative session to move forward on a bill that would legalize gay marriage.
If lawmakers pass a bill, Hawaii would join 13 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage. The special session is scheduled to begin Oct. 28.
The bill is the culmination of 20 years of discussion, Abercrombie told reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol.
“Every variation on a view with regard to the issue of marriage and equitable treatment for those engaged in marriage has been aired, has been analyzed, has been discussed,” Abercrombie said. “No one has been left out or has been marginalized in the process to this point.”
Abercrombie acknowledged that some people will be against the bill because they disagree with the concept of gay marriage, but he said it includes provisions – including a religious exemption – to protect First Amendment rights.
Abercrombie said he chose to call a special session rather than allow legislators to consider the issue next year in part because of implications on taxes for this year.
“There are serious, deep and wide-ranging consequences,” Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie said if legislators move quickly and efficiently, the special session could last four to five days.
House Speaker Joseph M. Souki of Maui, who last week said support for the bill is tight in his chamber, said that he was not surprised by the governor’s announcement.
“Last week Friday when we met with him, we had an open and frank discussion on the proposed legislation, and it was clear that he intended to act on the issue very quickly,” Souki, who represents Wailuku, Waihee and Waikapu, said Monday.
“Now that the decision has been made, it gives the public time to comment on the proposed legislation before the special session convenes on October 28,” he said.
Hawaii is already among a handful of states that allow same-sex civil unions, which gay marriage advocates say stop short of the full benefits of marriage.
Proponents of gay marriage in the state renewed their efforts after seeing two U.S. Supreme Court rulings come down in line with their views in June. One ruling granted federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states where gay marriage is legal.
Abercrombie has been considering a special session since the rulings. He met privately last week with Democratic lawmakers in the House about the issue.
Hawaii’s legislative chambers are both overwhelmingly composed of Democrats. Only one senator among 25 is Republican, while Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House 44-7.
If a bill is passed in time, Hawaii could begin issuing licenses and conducting ceremonies Nov. 18, Attorney General David Louie said.
Abercrombie said he won’t be certain until the votes come, but he believes the bill has enough support to pass. He said it likely would not pass without the religious exemption.
“We’re trying to keep from imposing one set of views on each other that would end up with conflict and confrontation,” he said. “We think that this bill achieves that delicate balance.”