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Hawaii special legislative session begins today

Jackson LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials Sevcik v Sandoval

Hawaii state sealToday, the Hawaii legislature will reconvene for a special session called by Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie to allow lawmakers to approve a marriage equality bill.  And as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports, that proposed legislation looks very likely to succeed:

No Democratic lawmaker has been willing to publicly lead the opposition to gay marriage, although a few, such as Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho), have warned against the rush to pass a bill in special session and have called for a stronger religious exemption.

Rep. James Tokioka (D, Wailua-Hanamaulu-Lihue), who intends to vote against the bill, said he surveyed constituents in his district earlier this year and found that 70 percent of respondents opposed same-sex marriage.

“I need to reflect the opinion of my district,” he said.

The projected vote count for marriage equality in the state Senate is 21-4. In the state House — where individual districts are smaller and the intensity of public opinion can feel closer — several lawmakers appear nervous. The Star-Advertiser’s vote count in the House remains at 28-17, with six lawmakers undecided. House leaders say their count is closer to 30 in support, a cushion over the 26 votes required for passage.

The House Democrats who say they are undecided — and who will likely experience the full force of the public over the next several days — are still calculating.

Even Democrats who have opposed marriage equality in past, such as John Mizuno, who voted against civil unions in 2011, are reconsidering their position, as the Star-Advertiser notes:

Earlier this year, Mizuno, who is now the House vice speaker, thought voters should decide the issue of marriage through a constitutional amendment. After the Supreme Court’s rulings in June, he said the Legislature should decide and that he was reconsidering his own opinion.

Today, Mizuno says he is nearing a “complete evolution.”

“In order for me to vote ‘yes’ on this bill, I will need two guarantees,” he said in an email. “First, that the bill clearly protects the free will and choice of those wishing to love, honor and commit their life in marriage to another, regardless of their sex. Secondly, and just as important, the bill will need to embody robust language to protect the churches, mosques, synagogues, other places of worship and those that lead them, with exemptions that ensure that their constitutional right to freedom of religion is protected.

“As a lawmaker, I cannot side with either group if they aim to take away the rights of the other. What I can do, what I swore an oath to do as a representative of the people of this state, is to protect and represent the rights for all people. This bill will have to clearly guarantee the rights of both sides for me to vote ‘yes.’

“I am nearing complete evolution of my position on this issue, but must reserve my vote pursuant to the final language of the bill agreed by both houses.”

The first special session hearing of the Senate Committee on Judiciary & Labor will take place tomorrow in Honolulu at 10:30 a.m. local time (1:30 p.m. Pacific and 4:30 Eastern).

Last week, legal briefs were filed with the Ninth Circuit in two marriage equality challenges, Sevcik v. Sandoval and Jackson v. Abercrombie, which seek equal marriage rights in Nevada and Hawaii, respectively.  Gov. Abercrombie, the named defendant in the Hawaii case, argued in support of marriage equality in his brief:

“Only legalization of same-sex marriage would allow plaintiffs, and tens of thousands of other same-sex couples in Hawaii, to ‘pursue the happiness’ and assume the mutual responsibilities — important to human ‘existence and survival’ — that are at the heart of the fundamental right to marry.  And only legalization will give plaintiffs the equality they so justly deserve.”

Another brief, spearheaded by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and joined by other attorneys general such as Kamala Harris of California and Beau Biden of Delaware, argued that state governments have no rational reason for forbidding same-sex couples from marrying:

“Since the founding, states have sanctioned marriages to support families, strengthen communities, and facilitate governance,” the brief states. “Because same-sex couples form families, raise children, and avail themselves of the benefits and abide by the obligations of marriage in the same manner as different-sex couples, the states’ interest in marriage are furthered by allowing same-sex couples to marry.”

Sevcik and Jackson are the two marriage equality challenges that are currently furthest along the road to the Supreme Court, although litigation is pending in many states across the country at the district court level.


  • 1. JayJonson  |  October 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

    JoeMyGod cites a Hawaii News Now survey to say that "The Votes Are There."

    Senate leadership says the bill is expected to pass 21-4, but the real question has always been if the same-sex marriage bill will have the 26 votes it needs to pass in the House. Hawaii News Now surveyed lawmakers last week. 27 Representatives tell us they plan to vote yes. Representative Jo Jordan is undecided. "How can I say I'm a supporter or not a supporter when I can't tell you what that final bill is going to read? If I say I support something right now and I'm not palatable with that thing— how am I going to take back those words? If I say right now I'm not supportive of it and I am supportive of it in the end, how am I going to do that? As legislators we should be able to argue our stance — if my constituency supports it or not supports it, I should be able to argue that," described Jordan. Jordan estimates about 75% of the constituents she's heard from have indicated they support same-sex marriage, but she's concerned not everyone feels like they have been given a chance to participate in the process.
    Seventeen House reps say they plan to vote no. Another seven say they remain undecided. If amendments to the current bill are presented, the earliest day for passage will be November 6th. Marriages could commence by November 18th

  • 2. Joel J  |  November 8, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    Unfortunately, Rep. Jo Jordan has broken ranks and has indicated that she will vote no. I listened to her speak twice on this during the readings. The reason that she put forth was that she believed that SB1/HD1 is not balanced in the sense that it does not go far enough in providing protection/exemptions for religious entities. The wording that protects these institutions seems pretty clear to me. I really do not understand what she is thinking. I wonder is their are different motivations.

  • 3. Joel J  |  November 9, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Typo…sorry. The final sentence should read: "I wonder if there are different motivations."

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