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.


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  2. Has anyone else seen this post making its way around Hawaii blogs? I have some legal information I could add to it if its author would contact me.
    This is the post:
    A Call for Truth – and for Action
    Over the past few weeks, increasing numbers of the majority of Hawai`i voters who support civil unions have been dismayed to hear Hawai`i State Senators offering flimsy excuses for their failure to bring the HB444 to the Senate floor for a vote.
    First, constituents were told that recalling the bill from Committee would violate established Senate “procedures.” But this is transparently wrong. Senate Rule 52 specifically provide that, “[t]wenty days after a bill has been referred to a committee, the same may be recalled from such committee by the affirmative vote of one-third of the members of the Senate.” The Senate, it should be noted, did not make this Rule up on its own. It is taken, word for word, from the Hawaii State Constitution -- Article III, Section 12.
    The recall provision was added to the Hawai`i Constitution to ensure that political shenanigans wouldn’t keep a bill from reaching the floor if a third of the House or the Senate membership wanted to bring it to a vote. It has been invoked many times, among these, ironically, in 1996, when Senator Bunda, who now argues that recalling the civil unions bill would violate “procedures,” voted to pull an anti-gay marriage provision from the same Senate Committee that is now holding the civil unions bill hostage.
    So much for “procedures.”
    Senate President Hanabusa has also attempted to convince her fellow Senators and their constituents that, if HB444 passes, the Hawai`i Supreme Court will hold it unconstitutional, because the bill does not call same sex unions “marriages.” This is a smoke screen. First, the Constitutional Amendment passed in 1998 removes from the Hawai`i Supreme Court the power to require that same-sex unions be called “marriages.” A state court can not hold a provision of its state constitution unconstitutional under that very same state constitution. Second, if it would violate the Hawai`i Constitution not to call same-sex civil unions “marriages,” how much more serious is it to deny same-sex couples the equal substantive rights that civil unions would provide? The argument makes no sense, and it is clearly being made to confuse and intimidate people who are not lawyers. Various professors from the U.H. Law School have already advised the Senate majority caucus that the argument lacks legal merit.
    Finally, now that all else is failing, constituents are being told that it’s just too late in the session to recall HB444. But not to worry, we are told, the Senate will take up the bill first thing next year. Right. Next year. Just before an election. Whatever it is you think we are smoking, here’s a news flash: we are not smoking it.
    Twelve Senators -- English, Galuteria, Green, Hanabusa, Hee, Ige, Kokubun, Nishihara, Takamine, Taniguchi, and Tsutsui -- claim that they support civil unions, but then they voted against pulling the bill from committee. In that committee, three Senators – Slom, Gabbard, and Bunda – are holding the bill hostage, even though a majority of Senators say they support and want to vote for it.
    So, why all this doubletalk about recalling the bill? Are Senators being strong-armed by leadership in furtherance of some backroom deal? If so, they should tell their constituents the truth and be done with it. Is the political kitchen too hot? If so, then they should just vote against the bill. But then please don’t complain about “activist judges” when LGBT people, who in the past weeks have in legislative hearings been variously compared to rapists, pedophiles, necropheliacs, and people who want to marry their dogs, and who have in those same hearings been called “unclean,” “illicit,” “diseased” and “depraved” -- turn to the courts to protect their rights and their dignity.
    Enough with the double-talk. It’s for some candor – and some action. Those who support their lesbian and gay neighbors in the struggle for equal rights need to turn the heat on these Senators. HB444 should be recalled from the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee and brought to a vote on the Senate floor.

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