HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawai'i is a battleground state for same sex marriage – that's according to Freedom to Marry, one of the largest advocacy groups for marriage equality in the nation. The organization announced this week they would focus their efforts here and in three other states in hopes to legalize same sex marriage by 2014.
Same sex marriage was one of the most highly anticipated and hotly debated issues this past legislative session, but a bill to legalize it never made it out of committee. Now there's talk of convening a special session, but if and when that will happen is still anyone's guess.
Same sex marriage supporters say the Supreme Court's ruling that gay couples deserve equal rights and benefits under federal law should be all the push Hawai'i lawmakers need to call a special session.
"We're hopeful. We believe it should happen now. To make us wait until January is cruel and unusual punishment to the LGBT couples and the children who do not have the protections that they would have now that DOMA has fallen," said Michael Golojuch, Jr., GLBT Caucus Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i.
The House and Senate would both need two-thirds of their members to support a Special Session in order to convene on their own. Otherwise, it's up to the Governor and right now, his office says the focus is on examining the High Court's decision.
"As Governor Abercrombie has elaborated that needs to be thoroughly reviewed and then we can determine what action would be warranted," said Louise Kim McCoy, Communications Director for Governor Abercrombie.
Senator Sam Slom says same sex marriage isn't a critical issue and doesn't think a special session is appropriate.
"If you want to have a special session than have it on something special and that is really important to Hawaii – about our jobs, about our economy, about the taxes, about the roads, about our healthcare – all of these things. Same sex marriage may be very important to those people who have been lobbying for it for years, but it is not a key issue for the legislature and can wait it's time til next year. There was nothing in the Supreme Court rulings that dictated that this state or any other state should rush to judgment and have a special session in that issue," explained Sen. Slom.
Representative Chris Lee believes marriage equality is inevitable and says a special session is the right direction to take.
"I think it's something that's moving ahead across the nation with a majority of support from virtually everybody – particularly younger generations. I think here in Hawai'i in particular where this debate started so many years ago, we're a state that embraces aloha and diversity – these are things that are important to us – and there's no reason to continue discriminating against anybody. Folks who enter into civil unions here in Hawai'i are accrued state benefits, but at this point don't get the federal benefits, tax status and a number of other things which they would get if we changed the word civil union to the word marriage," said Rep. Lee.
If a special session isn't called, both sides agree you can expect to see a same sex marriage bill introduced next January.
"The Governor's going to have to show some leadership on this and do it and call for the special session. We have the votes in the House and the Senate to pass the bill we just don't have the two-thirds to get them to call it, so the Governor's going to have to step in. This is a watershed moment for LGBT rights here, and we need him to support us more than ever," said Golojuch, Jr.
Freedom to Marry has committed money to support state organizations' efforts to legalize same sex marriage.