As many as 12,000 people on three islands turned out Monday, October 28, at a 5-hour rally to protest Senate Bill 1, a bill that would legalize same sex marriage in Hawaii.
Coordinated by Christian churches and family advocacy groups, the rallies were timed with the opening day of the special legislative session called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to pass a same sex marriage bill before the end of the year.
“We estimate that 10,000 people were at the capitol yesterday to oppose Senate action,” said Jim Hochberg, president of Hawaii Family Advocates, noting rallies were also held on Maui and the Big Island, in Hilo and Kona. “That means that potentially 10,000 to 12,000 residents of Hawaii took time out of their busy schedules to show the legislature that they understand that marriage should remain between one man and one woman.”
The massive crowd chanted and waved signs that said “Let the people decide,” demanding legislators allow a public vote on the issue, and a number of religious and political leaders spoke at the event held in the capitol rotunda.
Leading up to the opening of what could be a two week special session, opponents and proponents of the bill submitted thousands of pieces of testimony in – more than 3,459 in the last few days – shutting down the email and fax lines at the capitol.
The early testimony count was running about 40 percent in support of legalization, and 60 percent in opposition, according to Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee Chair Clayton Hee.
Hee oversaw the only committee hearing in the state Senate on Monday, which lasted 12 hours, before his committee voted 5-2 to pass the bill out to the full Senate for a vote of the entire body on Thursday.
Gov. Abercrombie, Attorney General David Loui, and wife of U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, Linda Schatz, testified in favor of SB 1, while more than 400 others testified on both sides of the issue.
Senators Brickwood Galuteria, Malama Solomon and Les Ihara joined Chair Hee and his co-chair Maile Shimabukuro, to support the same sex marriage, while Senators Mike Gabbard and Sam Slom voted in opposition.
The bill will go before the full Senate on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., where it is expected to pass with little opposition, and cross over to the House.
The House begins its first hearing on Senate Bill 1 at 10 a.m. on Thursday, October 31, Halloween.
In the 51-member House, the vote should be much closer. Abercrombie maintains he has 27 votes, or one more than he needs.
Should the bill pass the House Judiciary and Finance committees, and then pass the full House without any changes to the Senate version, the bill would go to the governor for his signature within a matter of days.
Hawaii already has a reciprocal beneficiaries law and a civil unions law.
Proponents, who have held rallies of their own, albeit considerably smaller ones, argue same sex marriage is a civil rights issue and benefits them financially.
Opponents argue against the bill on moral and legal grounds. They cite a public vote during the 1998 election on a constitutional amendment that showed residents were overwhelmingly opposed to same sex marriage and want to keep marriage between one man and one woman.
Proponents note, however, that the same amendment ultimately gave power to the legislature to define marriage.
Church leaders from more than 100 organizations have also expressed concerns about SB 1, saying it will impact their religious freedoms and give same sex marriage proponents a legal avenue to bring lawsuits against them.
Meanwhile, leaders of 50 other Hawaii religious organizations have supported the same sex marriage legislation.