Thursday, February 5, 2009

House committee advances gay marriage bill

HONOLULU -- The House Judiciary Committee just gave the nod to gay marriage, moving HB 444 forward after hearing four hours of testimony.

The bill would allow same-sex couples to have all the benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage after having their civil union performed by a judge or member of the clergy. The state would also recognize such unions performed in other states.

The committee made it clear that it is not redefining marriage, but merely allowing civil unions.

Currently, only Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay marriages, and Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire provide some, but not all, of the benefits of marriage by recognizing civil unions.

The bill is on a fast track to the full House, during a legislative session that is so short of money that lawmakers have time to focus on cost-free but controversial bills such as this.

With 32 of the 51-member House signed on as cosponsors, the bill seems to have an easy trip to the alter of the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

About 69 percent of Hawaii voters in 1998 passed a constitutional amendment allowing, but not requiring, the state Legislature to define marriage as between a man and a woman. A 1997 law allowed same-sex couples to register as “reciprocal beneficiaries,” including hospital visitation rights, authority to sue in wrongful death cases and inheritance and property rights.