HONOLULU — Gov. Neil Abercrombie plans to force state lawmakers’ hands, pledging to call them into special session on Oct. 28 to vote on whether to legalize gay marriage.
Hawaii already has a reciprocal beneficiaries law and a civil unions law, but Abercrombie wants a special session to pass a gay marriage bill now.
“The decision to call a special session is based on doing what is right to create equity for all in Hawaii,” Abercrombie said in a statement Monday. “The merits of holding a special session include the opportunity for the Legislature to focus squarely on this important issue, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session.”
After learning two weeks ago he didn’t have the votes in the House from his own Democratic party members, Abercrombie released a draft of his proposed gay marriage bill to show his office is “doing its due diligence” and “being transparent.”
Abercrombie also continued to meet with House Democrats — 44 of the 51 House members — behind closed doors, and now believes he has the votes he needs.
Hawaii GOP Chair David Chang said his party is opposed to a special session.
“Although we respect the rule of law, this issue deeply divides our state and should be considered during the regular legislative session. Rather than welcoming an open dialogue, Governor Abercrombie has once again resorted to strong-arm tactics to pressure members of his own party just to advance his polarizing agenda,” Chang said.
Abercrombie said he wants gay couples to be able to take full advantage of various tax and other financial issues before the end of the year.
He also pointed out that since June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, theIRS and Treasury Department have ruled that same-sex couples legally married in recognizing jurisdictions will be treated as married for federal tax purposes, and additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs will allow gay married couples to be eligible for veterans benefits.
Chang countered that Hawaii’s high cost of living, underfunded state pension accounts and lack of funding for school facilities and transportation are important issues in Hawaii, and “the governor has never rushed to fix those issues in a special session.”
“Ultimately, the governor is using this issue to ensure his win in the 2014 Democrat primary election and ignoring the many people of Hawaii who feel that a special session will limit public input and lack transparency,” Chang said.
The special session could last anywhere from three to 10 days.
“In my opinion, this is a waste of time and money for an issue that requires no urgency or special treatment,” said Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom.
During the past 12 years, Slom said the Legislature met in special session for purposes other than judicial confirmations twice: once for rebuilding the economy after 9/11 and once on whether the Hawaii Superferry should get an environmental exemption to continue to operate.
“This is about politicians looking for votes in the 2014 primary election, but in the process putting their thumb in the eyes of the voters who support them,” said Slom, the only Republican in the Senate.
Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa, a candidate for Congress in 2014, was opposed to gay marriage, but recently changed his views and will now change his vote.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark rulings have changed the direction and tone of the SSM debate. Even Pope Francis has provided comforting words on this matter,” Espero said. “I have been watching the national and international progress on SSM, and discussing this issue with many individuals. I have concluded that SSM is about equality and fairness for all, and it is the right thing to do. I feel much of the fear of opponents is unfounded, and this is a landmark policy decision which history will remember. Separation of church and state is important, and I support religious exemptions for faith based organizations.”
Rep. Chris Lee, D-Waimanalo, who has spearheaded the effort among House Democrats to get the bill passed, said marriage equality is about fulfilling the nation’s promise of freedom and equal rights for allAmericans 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.
The Hawaii Democratic Party, American Civil Liberties Union, Equity Hawaii Foundation, Human Rights Campaign and other special interest groups have urged lawmakers to support gay marriage.
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 churches have fought against legalization.
More than 100 church leaders signed a petition expressing 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.
Proponents of gay marriage are looking to Hollywood to boost attention for their cause and raise money for lobbying efforts.
They will hold a 2013 Marriage Equity Gala in Honolulu on September 21, featuring “Glee” television star Mathew Morrison as the main celebrity attraction.