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Hawaii legislators meet this week to discuss possible special session to pass marriage equality

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It is likely there will be a special legislative session in Hawaii this fall, according to reports. Governor Neil Abercrombie has said that a marriage equality bill will be taken up during that session if language for a bill can be agreed upon.

The Washington Post is reporting:

Hawaii state House Democrats will meet this week to gauge whether they can come up with the votes to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

If there is sufficient support, and if legislative leaders can agree on language that would withstand court challenges, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will call a special session to deal with the issue this fall. Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he thinks it’s “very likely” there will be a special session.

“I think we can put together something that can achieve a solid majority, that will give us the opportunity to establish marriage equity in the state of Hawaii commensurate with the recent Supreme Court decisions, and will satisfy and resolve the issues that are presently before the appeals court on the mainland,” Abercrombie told a gathering of state Democrats.

The governor and attorney general are working on language for a bill. Hawaii’s situation is unique: the state has a constitutional amendment addressing same-sex marriage, but its amendment explicitly allows the state legislature to decide whether or not to pass a marriage equality law. The legislature defines marriage as opposite-sex only. Instead of working to repeal the amendment, though, the state legislature simply needs to pass a law, or a court would have to overturn the amendment.

A challenge to Hawaii’s marriage laws is working its way through federal court. A federal district court ruled against same-sex couples and the case is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It will be briefed and argued on a parallel track with Sevcik v. Sandoval, Lambda Legal’s challenge to Nevada’s restrictive marriage laws. Opening briefs are due on September 18. The Ninth Circuit is widely considered to be more favorable toward marriage equality. They struck down Prop 8 and put Arizona’s anti-gay domestic partner benefits law on hold.

The Post report notes that Hawaii’s legislature has a supermajority of Democrats. However, churches are seen as major opposition to any new law allowing same-sex marriage. That might be changing to some extent, as yesterday it was reported that over two dozen religious leaders have signed on to support marriage equality in the state. These church leaders called the issue a matter of fairness.

A special session would occur in the fall, if it happens. And briefing in Hawaii’s marriage case is expected to wrap up at the end of October.

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