Lawmakers expected to decide fate of civil unions bill

Suzanne King
Suzanne King
Janice Okubo
Janice Okubo
Bob Ristelhueber
Bob Ristelhueber
Tambry Young
Tambry Young

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser plans to make a motion on Wednesday to pull the civil unions bill out of committee and onto the senate floor for a vote.

Gay couples share how their lives will change, if the bill becomes law.

Suzanne King and Tambry Young have been together for 28 years. Nine years ago, they welcomed a new addition to their family.

"We want to make sure we have what we need for her protection," King said.

The kind of protection the civil unions bill offers.

"If we were to have one of us get in the hospital for whatever reason, there wouldn't be any issue," said King.

Issues such as health insurance. In Hawaii, gay couples can already get benefits by becoming reciprocal beneficiaries. But there's a snag.

"It's not mandatory for providers or employers to recognize a reciprocal beneficiary relationship," said Janice Okubo, Spokesperson for the State Department of Health (DOH).

DOH issues the certificates that legally establish a reciprocal beneficiary relationship between two consenting adults who cannot get married.

"It still did not help me get Tambry on my medical. We did a co-parent adoption of Shylar in 2000 and the reciprocal beneficiary did nothing for us," said King.

"You don't get the same tax benefits and also inheritance, passing property on to your partner," said Bob Ristelhueber, who signed up for reciprocal benefits with his partner of 18 years.

He says the civil unions bill is an issue of equality.

"This civil unions law would have nothing to do with religious marriage," said Ristelhueber.

Opponents fear the bill would morally destroy the definition of marriage, and send the wrong message to children.

But in Young and King's case?

"It would validate Shylar's ideas that we are like everyone else," said Young.

"And that's what we believe, that even if the civil unions pass, that all gay families with children will all be viewed in the same way," said King.

Under the civil unions bill, same-sex couples still wouldn't be able to get married, but they would get marital benefits.

On Tuesday, opponents rallied at the state capitol, urging lawmakers not to pull the bill onto the Senate floor for a vote.

The measure would allow same-sex couples to get the same benefits as married couples.

A handful of people against the bill say they have relatives who are homosexual, including Thomas Couch, who says his 13-year-old niece is gay.

"She says, 'I oppose it also.' And she says, 'Uncle, when I hung around gay people I became gay. Because I'm not gay, I wasn't born gay, I was born a woman and I'm still a woman, but that's my choice,'" said Couch.

"Civil rights are what a person is born with - race or disability. Civil union is a choice that people are making as to a lifestyle," said New Hope Pastor Elwin Ahu, a former circuit judge.

Last month, the civil unions bill technically died in a Senate committee after members deadlocked on it.

But senators can still bring it back to life. Nine votes are needed to do so.