Senate approves same-sex marriage bill, heads to Governor for signature

Published: Nov. 12, 2013 at 2:46 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 13, 2013 at 2:51 AM HST
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Governor Neil Abercrombie plans to sign a controversial same-sex marriage bill into law Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after it was approved by the Senate. 

The "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013", Senate Bill 1 House Draft 1, passed Tuesday 19 to 4 with 2 Senators excused. 

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As supporters of same-sex marriage reached out to each other in joy, several opponents stood up to leave in disappointment.

"We're pleased to have the privilege of enacting historic law.  We stand on the principles of equality and justice and liberty for all and mostly we stand on the principal that all marriages are now equal," said Senator Clayton Hee, who chairs the Senate's Judiciary committee.

"Today's passage of Senate Bill 1 marks a pivotal moment in our State's history, a moment enshrined in equality and justice," said Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria, who introduced the bill. "Working together with our colleagues in the State House we have come to a compromise which provides a balance between religious freedom and equal rights."

SB 1, HD 1 expands the bill's original religious exemptions to protect clergy from refusing to perform wedding ceremonies and religious institutions from being compelled to allow wedding celebrations or provide wedding goods or services to a same-sex couple.

The Senate's decision came down after several hours of passionate -- and in some cases very personal — explanations for their vote.

"As one of six members in this chamber of the only recognized indigenous aboriginal maoli people of this state, it is with great pride that I stand here today," said Senator Gilbert Kahele, who voted for SB 1 HD 1.

"Same-sex relationships are a part of the very fabric of the Hawaiian peoples ancestors history," explained Sen. Kahele.  "Only after Western contact the arrival of the missionaries in 1820 and the fall of the kapu system the aikane become an outcast in their own land." 

While one Senator described the bill as leaving people "disillusioned and disenfranchised", another referred to it as "an expansion of aloha". 

During his floor address, Hee read from an email he received from Edith Windsor.  The 84-year-old widow is behind the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to strike down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, after Justice's ruled the federal ban on same-sex marriage benefits was unconstitutional. 
"I'm writing to ask you to do whatever it takes to get the bill passed, no matter what, even a law with religious exemptions.  If no equal marriage law passes in Hawai'i, it will surely be a loss for Hawai'i, but it will also be a loss for the rest of the country since we need to keep building momentum toward full equality state by state by state.  So, please do whatever you can to make sure some bill passes in Hawai'i -- even if an imperfect one -- so that gay couples in Hawai'i can have the same rights that I have in New York, and so that Hawai'i becomes the next state to join marriage equality," Sen. Hee read. 
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom countered saying the Supreme Court did not "give it's stamp of approval on same-sex marriages" and challenged the strength of the bill's religious exemptions. 
"It is not positive, and we will see right after this bill is signed into law -- attempts by those who do want to go into your face, who are not thinking about loving relationships but how they can defeat somebody else and quell free speech," Slom described.  "People have differences and you can't legislate morality, you can try -- but you can't do it," Slom added.  

Slom said the bill would have "lasting and serious consequences" on social conduct, small businesses and education -- claiming parents would not be able to opt out of "Pono Choices", a teen pregnancy and STD prevention program that currently touches on homosexuality. 

Senator Jill Tokuda, the Senate's Education committee chair, described Slom's floor address as "absolutely incorrect".

"Parents at any point in the program from before it's even begun throughout every single unit, have every option to pull their child out from this particular program.  In fact, parents are walked through the entire curriculum unit by unit before it's even taught to their child.  There is very clearly an opt -out policy that is in existence for the Department of Education for all controversial issues.  This will remain in effect going forward, nothing has changed," explained Sen. Tokuda. 

Senator David Ige described DOE's policy as "the most liberal in country" -- reiterating parents don't even have to review the curriculum first.

"They can tomorrow submit a letter to their school that states those subject matters they don't want their children participating in -- regardless where it comes from," Sen. Ige said. 

Senator Suzanne Chun-Oakland's voice cracked with emotion as she described her support for the bill.

"My hope is that the passion each of you have for this subject area will strengthen us as a community, rather than divide us and mutual respect and love we have for one another will prevail.  I hope that we honor each other's differences and celebrate the life that we have together in Hawai'i, irrespective of the diverse views we hold on this subject.  Life is too precious not to care for one another with compassion and respect," said Chun-Oakland. 

Senator Mike Gabbard apologized if his comments offended anyone before launching into his opposition to the measure. 

"When you tally up the more than 26,000 pieces of testimony in both chambers, over 60 % -- 60% -- were opposed," Gabbard said.  "One would think that we as elected officials would slow down, pause, realizing how important this issue is to the people and take more time to deliberate in order to make an informed decision."

President Barack Obama, a "keiki o ka aina", as one lawmaker described him released the following statement following the Senate's vote:

"I want to congratulate the Hawaii State Legislature on passing legislation in support of marriage equality.  With today's vote, Hawaii joins a growing number of states that recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger.  By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.  I've always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today's vote makes me even prouder.  And Michelle and I extend our best wishes to all those in Hawaii whose families will now be now given the security and respect they deserve."

"I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms," said Governor Neil Abercrombie, who is scheduled to sign the bill Wednesday morning at the Convention Center. "Today,we celebrate our diversity defining us rather than dividing us," the statement from the Governor's Office went on to say.

Hope for healing and that "aloha will prevail", as one Senator put it, was the focus following the roll-call vote.  One Senator declared "there's no room for hate in the 808", as nother described watching opponents and supporters both embrace the lyrics of "Hawai'i 78" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

"All families are families -- not just a man and a woman -- all families are made of love," described Senator Michelle Kidani, who voted for the same-sex marriage bill.

The following senators voted yes: 
- Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D - West Maui, South Maui)
- Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D - Downtown, Nuuanu, Liliha) 
- Sen. J. Kalani English (D - Molokai, Lanai, Upcountry Maui, Hana)
- Sen. Will Espero (D - Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point)
- Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D - Kakaako, McCully, Waikiki) 
- Sen. Josh Green (D - Naalehu, Kailua-Kona)
- Sen. Clayton Hee (D - Heeia, Laie, Waialua)
- Sen. David Ige (D - Pearl Harbor, Pearl City, Aiea)
- Sen. Les Ihara, Jr. (D - Moiliili, Kaimuki, Palolo)
- Sen. Gilbert Kahele (D - Hilo)
- Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D - Waihee, Wailuku, Kahului)
- Sen. Michelle Kidani (D - Mililani, Waikele, Kunia) 
- Sen. Clarence Nishihara (D - Waipahu, Pearl City)
- Sen. Russell Ruderman (D - Puna)
- Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D - Kalaeloa, Waianae, Makaha)
- Sen. Malama Solomon (D - Naalehu, Kailua-Kona)
- Sen. Jill Tokuda (D - Kailua, Kaneohe)
- Sen. Laura Thielen (D - Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, Kailua)
- Sen. Glenn Wakai (D - Kalihi, Salt Lake, Aliamanu) 

The following senators voted no:
- Sen. Mike Gabbard (D - Kapolei, Makakilo)
- Vice President Ronald Kouchi (D - Kauai, Niihau)
- President Donna Mercado Kim (D - Kalihi Valley, Moanalua, Halawa) 
- Sen. Sam Slom (R - Diamond Head, Kahala, Hawaii Kai)

The following senators were excused: 
- Senators Donovan Dela Cruz (D - Wheeler, Wahiawa, Schofield)
- Brian Taniguchi (D - Makiki, Tantalus, Manoa) 

Once signed by the Governor, it will go into effect December 2, 2013.

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