Hawaii House Passes Gay Marriage Legislation, Fight For Equal Rights At Finish-Line
Ever since Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie announced a special legislative session to push for gay marriage two months ago, we've been holding our breath waiting to see the bill signed into law (and dreamily picturing the fabulous beachfront ceremonies that would ensue). But, in spite of being a majority blue state — holding a Democratic advantage of over 20 percent — the process has been arduous, and it was only Friday night that the state House finally passed bill SB1. It still needs to go back to the Senate, but, once that happens, Hawaii will likely become the 15th or 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
In what was seen as the key ballot, the House of Representatives passed the bill 30-19, with six out of seven Republicans joining 13 Democrats in voting against the legislation. The debate wasn't without controversy — over 5,000 people, most of them opponents of same-sex marriage, showed up to testify in the House as legislators considered the bill. The so-called "citizen's filibuster" provided over fifty hours of testimony over five days, eventually culminating in protesters gathering outside the Capitol to chant "Let the people vote," reportedly being so disruptive that representatives (you know, the people elected to represent the people) couldn't even hear themselves speak.
And that wasn't the weirdest thing to happen over the course of the debate. Even after the Hawaii Attorney General testified that homosexual couples, by being denied marriage, don't have access to over 1,000 federal benefits, opponents continued to rage against SB1. At one point, Rep. Bob McDermott suggested that the bill might force schools to teach kids the "homosexual lifestyle" (note: we are not in Russia), while Republican Rep. Gene Ward warned darkly that if the legislation passed, it would be just like what happened after 9/11 (we're unclear on what that means, exactly). Most strangely of all, Rep. Jo Jordan, a Waianae Coast Democrat — and openly gay legislator — voted against gay marriage (a first, according to ThinkProgress). She was apparently "moved" by the opponents' testimony.
"No, nobody’s going to beat me up. Nobody’s going to throw me out of my [LGBT] community … I might vote against something that I personally believe in. I personally believe I should have the right. You know how hard it is for me to say no? I have to say no," Jordan said.
Poignantly, the fight for gay marriage in the United States in fact began two decades ago in the Aloha state. In 1993, three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit for a marriage license, and the state's Supreme Court — to the surprise of pretty much everybody — ruled that refusing to allow same-sex marriages was illegal and discriminatory. Sadly — because it's always one-step-forward-two-steps-back — it also spawned a conservative backlash that led to the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, as well as a constitutional amendment in Hawaii that banned gay marriage two years later.
The amended bill now heads back to the Senate, which is expected to reconvene on Tuesday, and Governor Abercrombie has made it clear he'll be quick to sign the measure into law. But he'll have to be speedy in order to beat Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, whose state legislature finally passed an equal rights bill earlier this week — one of them will be the 15th state to give marriage rights to gay couples. Best race ever?