Senate judiciary chair recommends passage of same-sex marriage bill

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after the state House voted to approve marriage for same-sex couples, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he would recommend that the chamber pass the measure.

Sen. Clayton Hee (D) expects the Senate to vote 21-4 in favor of Senate Bill 1, House Draft 1, when it convenes Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.

The measure was approved by a vote of 30-19 in the House Friday night, with two representatives excused.

The vote triggered a wild celebration among supporters who had gathered all day at the State Capitol Rotunda.

"I am exhausted but I feel vindicated," said Kaleo Gagne, who watched from the House chamber gallery all day. "I can finally marry my husband Greg. We got married at Church of the Crossroads in 2008, and now I can officially marry him."

But on the other side of the rotunda, opponents of the bill -- who had spent most of the day chanting "Let the people vote!" -- fell silent, prayed, and listened to their organizers talk about what had just happened.

"Just very disappointed, and our voice is not being heard," said supporter Juliana Masaniai about the outcome. "And now we know who to elect next year. November's going to be coming up soon. It's just a very heartbreaking day for us here in Hawaii."

"This is the people of Hawaii. We known this state, we pay our taxes, we pay your salary," said opponent Jacob Nihipali, who aimed his remarks at lawmakers. "My paycheck gets a big chunk out, and we should have a say in what happens."

Supporters and opponents had been segregated into different areas. Before the vote, supporters withdrew from the area where opponents were, leaving a 30-foot empty space between the two groups. Immediately after the vote, some supporters tried to get closer to the opponents, but organizers kept them away.

Some House members had attempted several amendments to the measure, which were all turned away before the final vote.

"From the floor debate, you could hear that the bill may not be in fact be balanced to protect 14th and First Amendment guarantees," said Rep. Sharon Har (D-Kapolei, Makakilo), who opposed the measure.

Hee believes in the Senate, the debate will likely be brief before a final vote is taken.

"I would guess that discussion to move the bill forward on final reading would perhaps take about an hour," he said. "I would be surprised if it would be much longer than that."

Even though the session could be brief, the Senate is still taking additional security precautions, including keeping opponents and supporters separated in the rotunda.

"They plan on replicating what's happened these past couple of nights. So I think you can look at the same thing," said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

Pastor Elwin Ahu of New Hope Metro issued a statement, which said in part: "While our community has been divided on this issue with many opinions and voice shared, I think I speak on behalf of many churches that we look forward to building bridges and relationships with our neighbors in the GLBT community both within and outside of the walls of our churches."

While there are still possible legal challenges looming, supporters are looking ahead to Senate approval and the governor's signature that will make same-sex marriage the law.

"We have to wait and see," said Jaccee Mikulanec of Hawaii United for Marriage, "But Hawaii being the 16th state -- we kind of know what's coming, and there's not a lot, except a lot of people being really happy."

Two of those people could be Renae Hamilton and Noelle Cambeilh, who flew in from Kauai to witness the vote. When asked if they are already making plans to wed, they both responded, "Yes, we are!" The two said they expect to marry, on Kauai, within the next year.

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