Proponents of marriage equality for same-sex couples say they hope this is the year Hawaii will take the plunge.
On Friday, civil rights organizations, joined under the umbrella coalition Hawaii United for Marriage, celebrated the introduction of Senate Bill 1369, co-sponsored by state Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo.
In a phone interview from the capitol on Friday afternoon, Kahele said now is the time for all Hawaii couples to be treated fairly under the law.
“I think the time has come,” Kahele said. “I think everyone should be free to do and have all the same rights as the rest of us. I was glad to see the president incorporate it into his inaugural address.”
In his address on Monday, President Barack Obama specifically mentioned the gay marriage issue.
Last year, Hawaii began issuing civil unions to gay couples, affording them the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples under state law.
While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender support groups called that move a big step forward, they continue to argue there will not be true equality until the word “marriage” can be used by heterosexual and homosexual couples, alike.
“(N)ot everyone knows what a civil union means,” reads a Frequently Asked Questions list released Friday by Hawaii United for Marriage. “Only marriage provides families the protections they need if their loved ones are in the hospital or have a school emergency. Marriage is unique, there’s nothing else like it. And marriage says ohana in a way that civil unions simply do not.”
Among the supporters of SB 1369 is Lois Perrin, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. On Friday, she said Hawaii led the nation in supporting rights for same-sex couples with the 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling striking down a ban on same-sex marriages.
“The freedom to choose the person with whom we commit to share our life is a basic human right,”she said. “Marriage protects and provides for families with security and benefits defined by law in ways that civil unions do not. Hawaii must stand with our president and recognize that now is the time to treat all our families with respect, dignity and equality.”
SB 1369 is not the only piece of legislation addressing the same-sex marriage issue.
On Friday, following the state Legislature’s deadline for introduction of bills to be discussed during the 2013 session, at least five bills addressing the gay marriage issue had also been introduced.
Among them is a bill introduced by Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-Puna, which would extend to same-sex couples “the right to marry and to receive all the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage as opposite-sex couples receive under the laws of the State of Hawaii,” the bill description reads.
Not all legislators support gay marriage, however.
Rep. Clift Tsuji, D-Keaukaha, Hilo, Panaewa, Waiakea, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment bill — HB 1020 — that would define marriage as “only between one man and one woman.”
In a phone message left Friday, Tsuji said he has long personally supported marriage between a man and a woman, while recognizing that other states recognize same-sex marriage.
“This has been a very contentious issue for a lot of us at the Legislature,” he said.
He added that as a constitutional amendment, the issue will ultimately be left up to the voters.
Senate Bill 1292, introduced by state Sen. Mike Gabbard, seeks to amend the constitution to read that “a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman.”
Rep. John Mizuno, D-Kalihi , has said he personally supports traditional marriage, but he has proposed a pair of constitutional amendments — HB 1004 and HB 1005 — to put the issue to voters. One bill defines marriage as “only between a man and a woman, as husband and wife,” while the other says “marriage is a legally sanctioned union between two people of the opposite or same sex.”
In 1998, Hawaii became the first state in the union to specifically address gay marriage when it drafted an amendment saying that “the legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite sex couples.”
While the wording does not specifically ban gay marriage, it empowers the Legislature to do so.
Hawaii voters approved the measure on Nov. 3, 1998, by a margin of 69.2 percent to 28.6 percent.