Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Special session is expected

August 19, 2013

From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, on August 19, 2013. Click here to read the original article:

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Sunday it is “very likely” there will be a special legislative session on gay marriage.

The governor, speaking to a Demo­cratic Party of Hawaii gathering at Ward Warehouse, appealed for patience while his administration drafts a gay-marriage bill that can withstand a potential legal challenge from opponents.

“We’re not necessarily going to agree on every aspect of how to move forward where justice and freedom and opportunity are concerned,” the governor said. “But I think we can put together something that can achieve a solid majority, that will give us the opportunity to establish marriage equity in the state of Hawaii commensurate with the recent Supreme Court decisions, and will satisfy and resolve the issues that are presently before the appeals court on the mainland.”

Asked by the Star-Advertiser afterward whether there will be a special session, Abercrombie said, “I think it’s very likely.”

Despite the governor’s confidence, however, he cautioned that he is more concerned about drafting a legally sound bill than the timing of when a bill is passed into state law.

Blake Oshiro, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said he is working with the state attorney general’s office on a draft and has been in discussions with state lawmakers. Oshiro said the administration wanted to avoid a repeat of the flawed civil unions law that was approved in 2011 and later had to be corrected.

Abercrombie and state House and Senate leaders have been circumspect about a special session on gay marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits. The rulings prompted gay rights activists, along with the state’s congressional delegation and a growing number of the more liberal faith-based groups, to urge the state to act quickly.

Hawaii allows both gay and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights and benefits as marriage under state law, but federal law does not recognize civil unions. Gay couples have challenged the state’s marriage law in federal court as unconstitutional, and the case is on appeal.

House and Senate leaders have said they do not have the two-thirds’ support required under the state Constitution to call themselves back into special session, leaving the decision up to Abercrombie. The Senate has the votes for gay marriage, Senate leaders have said, but the vote count is much closer in the House.

Abercrombie has been waiting for a clear expression from the House that there are sufficient votes for a gay-marriage bill. House sources have said privately that they believe they have a majority but want a cushion for a special session.

“The House votes are really close right now,” said House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kaka­ako-McCully). “We are looking forward to meeting with the governor to discuss the language and mechanics of a bill.”

Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, and Abercrombie holds Washington Place, so activists in the party expect the Legislature and the governor to enact gay marriage either in special session or soon after the next session of the Legislature opens in January.

“Marriage is such a huge, volatile, emotional issue that it should be handled separately so that when we go into the regular session, we can focus on the more regular business,” said Jo-Ann Adams, an attorney and gay rights activist. “This needs to be done. It creates a nice space between getting it done in a focused way and giving them time to then reorient and refocus on the rest of the government business. It gives some space for it to die down so people don’t worry about any election repercussions, although we don’t expect any.”