Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democratic Party and numerous special interest groups are pushing lawmakers to hold a special session to legalize gay marriage.
The governor, a long time proponent of gay marriage, can call lawmakers into session, but first wants to ensure he has the votes.
Abercrombie needs at least 26 votes in the 51-member House and there is division among the 44 House Democrats.
The issue of whether to legalize gay marriage has long been controversial. Proponents believed Hawaii would be the first state to legalize gay marriage more than a decade ago. In 1997, Hawaii passed a reciprocal beneficiaries law, and in 2011, Abercrombie signed a civil union law.
However, many church leaders have fought against legalization. More than 100 church leaders signed a petition this week documenting their opposition to a special session and gay marriage, saying it is a “moral” issue with broad consequences. They believe they will be forced to perform same sex ceremonies on their property or be sued as churches in other states have.
Democrat House lawmakers will meet Wednesday to review a proposal, which at least in one version, would give churches an exemption. The Hawaii Republican Party, and several of its elected members, have gone on record in opposition to a special session to legalize gay marriage.
“Forcing this heated issue through an abbreviated session will only stifle public input which should be the most important part of the legislative process. Governor Abercrombie should be welcoming, not suppressing, the voice of the public on this issue,” the GOP said in a statement. “If Governor Abercrombie wants his bill to be heard, he should wait until the regular session when all others will have the time and opportunity to put forth their own ideas.”
However, Rep. Chris Lee, D-Waimanalo, who is spearheading the effort among House Democrats to get the bill passed, said marriage equality is about following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage in California, fulfilling the nation’s promise of freedom and equal rights for all Americans, and living up to Hawaii’s values of welcoming all in the spirit of kindness and aloha.
“No American should have to wait for their equal rights and we have a constitutional obligation to end harmful discrimination now,” Lee said.
Kathryn Xian, the executive director for Girl Fest Hawaii, said, prejudice hurts Hawaii’s youth: “Time is of the essence to prevent these harms by recreating our faith-based communities as more accepting and supportive of LGBT youth. This is just one of the many reasons why a special legislative session on Marriage Equality is so important to the wellbeing of our broken community. Not only will this send a clear message that our state is inclusive of all people regardless of their sexual identities, but that Hawaii protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority in matters of equality.”
Catholic Bishop Larry Silva wrote an open letter August 22 to parishioners outlining the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage, encouraging his members to contact their legislators to voice their disapproval. (see the letter here: Bishop Silva letter
“The issue goes far beyond simply the private relationship of this or that couple, and its implications will be far reaching and profound,” Silva wrote. “The language of the proponents is meant to convince us that this is a civil rights issue and that anyone who does not agree is bigoted. Do not be led astray with such language, and do not allow yourself to be bullied by it.”