Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Civil unions bill is dead again

HONOLULU – There is a saying that no bill is dead while the Legislature is in session, and one establishing civil unions is no exception.

But the Hawaii Senate killed it a second time today, failing to pull it from a deadlocked committee by an 18-6 vote.

HB 444, which would give same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of traditional marriage, already passed the full House and has been languishing a month in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, a Kauai Democrat who is running for lieutenant governor, has been instrumental in keeping the bill alive. He said the bill has been bottled up in committee by a 3-3 vote, and it’s up to the full Senate to move it forward.

“This is a fundamental issue of the fundamental rights of people,” Hooser said.

Several opponents of bringing the bill forward said they weren’t opposed to civil unions, but they wanted the legislative process kept clean.

“Today is a day when there will be no winners. When one individual is denied rights of others, we all lose But there is a tomorrow,” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, D-Kailua, Kaneohe.

The issue has raised a community reaction like no other in recent memory, with groups on both sides holding candlelight vigils, picket lines and demonstrations.

Several times today, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa had to shush a rowdy standing-room-only crowd, while hundreds more people milled around in the Capitol rotunda, lining up for peeks through the glass into Senate Chambers.

Almost 70 percent of Hawaii voters in 1998 passed a constitutional amendment allowing 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.