HONOLULU — Hawaii’s attorney general issued a legal opinion Tuesday saying state lawmakers can act to legalize gay marriage without amending the Hawaii Constitution.
Attorney General David Louie said the Legislature “unquestionably” has the constitutional authority to consider and enact a bill during a special session later this month.
Louie’s opinion comes in the form of a letter to state Sen. Les Ihara, a Democrat and majority policy leader. Ihara had questions about the law and criticisms from opponents who say it can’t be passed without changing the state’s charter document.
Louie said the plain language of the state’s constitution gives lawmakers the option to restrict marriage if they want, as opposed to forcing the state to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, as opponents to gay marriage argue.
The sentence at the center of the argument in the state constitution reads: “The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”
Louie said the meaning is clear, and the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled previously that if the constitution uses unambiguous language, it must be interpreted as written.
“Unlike other states that have passed constitutional amendments expressly banning marriage between individuals of the same sex, Hawaii’s electorate instead chose to give the Legislature the authority to make this determination,” Louie said.
The special session is scheduled to begin Oct. 28 and is expected to last about a week. Gov. Neil Abercrombie called the session after two U.S. Supreme Court rulings gave gay marriage proponents momentum to push for the laws to be changed in the state.
Hawaii currently recognizes same-sex civil unions that grant many rights similar to marriage but does not label the unions as marriage.
Opponents of the bill have said they think it should be considered during regular session, or put to a vote.