The proposed law, which has to pass the full Senate and House before categorizes couples in a civil union in a separate legal class, allowing them more rights, benefits and tax privileges that they already have under the more than decade old reciprocal beneficiaries law.
Sens. Mike Gabbard, D-Waianae, and Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, opposed SB232, saying it will lead to same sex marriage, while Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahaluu, Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, D-Ko Olina, and Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kapahulu voted in favor.
Gabbard, who successfully led the fight against same sex marriage since 1998, says an estimated 70 percent of his constituents are opposed to civil unions and same sex marriage. Slom says rather than passing new legislation, the reciprocal beneficiaries law should just be updated.
Ihara, the only proponent to makes comments, says it is a civil rights issue and believes the legislation is long overdue.
Concerned about possible violence at the hearing, Hee, the chair of the committee, had requested additional law enforcement to be present and for Kevlar jackets. Hee said violence has become too common an occurrence in the political forums and public hearings at the state capitol.
While not citing examples in Hawaii, Hee pointed to the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona and several other people in the crowd with her by a lone gunman who targeted her.
One lawmaker did get assaulted a traditional marriage rally. Gabbard was punched in the chest last year by a civil union proponent and Gabbard obtained a 3-year restraining order against his attacker.
Slom said the additional security was unnecessary and a waste of law enforcement resources, but Hee disagreed.
More than 300 people submitted testimony, but the hearing last just three hours. The last Senate hearing held two years ago on a similar bill was 18 hours long.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, and the House majority members already have been vocal about their support for civil unions, so supporters believe the bill should be enacted into law this year.