Hot on the heels of the gay marriage bills which have been introduced this month in Rhode Island and Maryland, a measure providing for near-marriage has passed a key stage in Hawaii. This is not yet full marriage, but as the opponents recognize, it is pretty close to marriage in all but name, and is surely just a staging post on the road to full equality. It’s a long road, but civil unions in Hawaii will be an important landmark along the way.
Civil unions in Hawaii pass crucial first vote
A bill creating same-sex civil unions in Hawaii cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when it was narrowly approved by a key state Senate committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the legislation with a 3-2 vote following 2½ hours of passionate testimony from opponents wearing white shirts with buttons declaring “civil unions equals same-sex marriage” and supporters bearing rainbow lei.
“This is a matter of civil rights. We would no longer feel that we’re second-class citizens,” testified Gary Okabayashi of Honolulu, who has been in a relationship with his partner for 32 years. “We would have a sense of pride and integrity because the state has finally recognized us as equal.”
Democrats, who control the Hawaii Legislature, said they plan to pass the bill quickly and send it to new Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who supports civil unions.
The bill is nearly identical to a measure that passed the Legislature last year before it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
It would grant both same-sex and opposite-sex couples the ability to enter into a civil union with the same state rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage.
Advocates of civil unions said November’s elections showed that voters supported candidates who backed equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Only one incumbent state legislator who backed civil unions lost re-election.
Opponents said legal recognition of gay partnerships would put the state on a path toward same-sex marriage.
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