Star Advertiser: “Isles’ gay marriage session should be sooner, not later”

July 8, 2013

Posted in the Star Advertiser
By Richard Borreca
July 7, 2013

As it turns out, much more work must be done before Hawaii is added to the list of states allowing gay marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court opinion knocking down the Defense of Marriage Act effectively makes marriage between persons of the same gender legal only in states that approve of such marriages.

Hawaii’s state law says marriage is between a man and woman; either the Legislature or the courts have to remove that clause before rainbow-colored wedding invitations are given out here.

The Legislature could call itself back into session before its scheduled January restart — but two-thirds of both the House and Senate have to ask for it.

Or Gov. Neil Abercrombie could say the Legislature is in session and ask that it act on a same-sex marriage proposal.

When Abercrombie was in Congress, he made sure his testimony in favor of civil unions was read first at legislative hearings. Abercrombie had also always prefaced his support for civil unions by saying he was also in favor of gay marriage.

Last week, Abercrombie said it was too soon to say if he would act to bring the Legislature back to the state Capitol.

Pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the strange Hawaii case challenging Hawaii laws reserving marriage for heterosexual couples.

The twist in that case is that while the state, through the state Health Department which gives out marriage licenses, is defending the case, Abercrombie favors the right of same-sex couples to marry. So the state has two legal teams arguing both sides of the case on appeal.

“Other groups and individuals have reached out to the governor; he has received a lot of communication asking him to call a special session. We hope that he does do what is right; asking LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) couples to wait until January is unfair, cruel and leaves them vulnerable,” said Michael Golojuch Jr., chairman of the LGBT Caucus of the state Democratic Party.

Asked what he thought of Abercrombie’s hesitant reaction, Golojuch would only say his group is “less than enthusiastic.”
Legislative leaders also do not see the issue as clear cut.

House Speaker Joe Souki, a Maui Democrat who voted against civil unions when it was before the Legislature, said the Legislature does not have the needed two-thirds majority to go into session, so if there is going to be any action, it comes from Abercrombie.
Souki did say he thinks that in the House, there is a simple majority for a gay marriage bill, but the votes are not firm.

So Souki is waiting for guidance from the court. He said he thinks the case could be argued and decided by the end of 2013.
There is the argument that the U.S. Supreme Court decision clearly said that marriage is a state, not a federal, issue — so it is up to the states to write the law. Souki said Hawaii has already made that decision: the 1998 constitutional amendment specifically gave the decision of who can marry whom to the Legislature and the Legislature has already said that a man and a woman are the only ones who can marry.

This is not operating in a Hawaii-only vacuum.

Those for and against gay marriage know that adding Hawaii to the column of same-sex marriage states would be a big deal. So if the Legislature or Abercrombie do not cause a special session to happen, it certainly will be an issue for the new Legislature in January.

Already once this year, mainland pro-gay marriage groups came to Hawaii trying to push for rewriting the state marriage law.

“We told mainland groups they need to back off, this is a local effort. If they have polling data and such we would accept that, but this needs to be, is and will be a Hawaii-based effort to pass marriage equality,” Golojuch said in an interview.

More pressure in the form of money and lobbying from pro- and anti-gay groups will make for a confused session in January.
All this makes Abercrombie’s delay in leading the call for a special session a great puzzlement.

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