BYJIM DOOLEY

A measure legalizing civil unions was passed by the state Senate today and now moves to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.

Gov. Abercrombie

“I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha,” Abercrombie said in a written statement.

“This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected,” the governor said.

“For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii,” said Abercrombie.

A date and time for the bill signing has not been set.

The bill would clear the way for civil unions to be performed here beginning next year.

The measure confers legal and economic benefits on same sex or heterosexual couples. Same sex marriages are illegal in Hawaii.

Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a bill similar to the one passed today.

The measure, which has been hotly debated for years, was again the subject of spirited debate on the floor of the Senate today.

It passed by a vote of 18-5.

Senators Sam Slom and Michael Gabbard spoke against passage. Senator Clayton Hee, chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, was the most outspoken proponent.

”There is no denying that by this action, Hawaii takes a significant step towards true equality,” Hee said.

Hee noted that before voting on the civil unions bill, the Senate voted to approve Judge Sabrina McKenna, an openly gay woman, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

McKenna, her life partner and the couple’s three children will benefit from the civil unions law, Hee said.

“Her children now get the same entitlements as other parents with children of their own,” Hee said.

Slom objected to Hee’s invoking of McKenna’s name in the civil unions debate, saying he felt such a linkage was “totally inappropriate.”

Slom is a strong supporter of McKenna, saying in voting to approve her nomination to the high court that he has “been of friend of the judge for a number of years” and has “been awed by her many, many accomplishments.”

“I think it is totally inappropriate to link and bring in the newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice” to the civil unions debate, Slom said.

Hee later responded by saying that McKenna had told him, “Isn’t it something that they can vote for me and not for my children.”

Slom cited concerns by the Attorney General’s office about wording in the civil unions bill in urging his colleagues to delay their vote.

He also said he believed legislators should be addressing the serious economic problems assailing the state before dealing with the civil unions issue.

Gabbard, a longtime opponent of civil unions, said passage of the measure  will be viewed as unfair because “we did not have enough time to digest it” or study all of its ramifications.

He also said he believes the measure is discriminatory because it blocks blood relatives from entering into civil unions.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com