Civil unions in Hawaii: over a decade of starts and stops

Civil unions in Hawaii: over a decade of starts and stops
House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro
House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro
Governor Linda Lingle
Governor Linda Lingle

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been a road full of twists and turns for House Bill 444. But, the controversy over civil unions in Hawaii goes back over a decade and now comes full circle.

Hawaii voters shot down gay marriage in 1998 by approving a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the power to ban same-sex marriage. However, lawmakers did not slam the door on civil unions. In the past 12 years lawmakers have considered civil unions several times. But the bills never made it out of committee.

The tide turned with House Bill 444. Last February, it passed the House and moved to the Senate for a passionate public hearing that went 18 hours. After more than 1,400 statements, the senate committee deadlocked over civil unions. House Bill 444 got a second shot this year, but was shelved in February.

Then, a dramatic twist. On the last day of the session House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro revived the bill and it passed, leaving the governor with the final word.

She met with both sides of the debate in May. But in the end, the governor said a decision of this magnitude should be made by the people.

Hawaii would have become one of six states  along with California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington to grant essentially all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage: Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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