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MARRIAGE DIGEST: Hawaii Senate passes civil unions bill; House outlook uncertain

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hawaii’s Senate passed a same-sex civil unions bill Friday by a veto-proof majority and sent it to the House, where social conservatives are hoping that election-year jitters help kill the proposal.

Needing 17 votes to reach the veto-proof threshold, H.B. 444 got that and one to spare as it passed the Democratic-controlled body, 18-7. Voting yes were 18 Democrats, including Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, while opposing it were five Democrats and the Senate’s two Republicans. Passage was significant because the bill died in the same chamber last year.

The proposal would grant homosexual couples all the legal benefits of marriage except the name. Other states — such as Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont -– have passed civil unions only later to legalize “gay marriage.”

The Senate passed the bill five days after approximately 15,000 opponents of the bill — clad in white shirts and sporting “iVote” stickers and buttons — marched at the state capitol.

A similar bill passed the Democratic-controlled House last year, 33-17, one vote shy of a veto-proof two-thirds margin. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has not taken a position on the bill but opponents are hoping she will veto it.

House Speaker Calvin Say told the Star-Bulletin newspaper the Democratic caucus would meet Monday to discuss the bill and possibly get a head count. A vote would take place, he said, only if there is a veto-proof margin. He called the issue “highly volatile” because of the pending election.

“My personal recommendation,” Say said, “is that if we do have the two-thirds, I would consider it, because I don’t want to go through the exercise of not having the two-thirds and she vetoes, and then it comes back to us to override, and I don’t have the votes to override.”

Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press it is his understanding that the House now has the bare minimum votes needed for a veto-proof margin. Social conservative groups such as the Hawaii Family Forum have identified which House members are most likely to change from a “yes” to a “no” vote, he said.

“We’re going to focus really hard this week on 12 or 13 people,” Lazor said, adding that opponents are stressing the importance of meeting face-to-face with representatives.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, a Republican who is running for governor, criticized the vote.

“Instead of redefining the institution of marriage, legislators should be focused on improving public education and balancing the state budget,” he said in a statement. “Like other movements across the country, voters will have the final say on Election Day.”

PUSH TO PROTECT MARRIAGE IN INDIANA — Indiana remains one of the nation’s most conservative states not to adopt a constitutional marriage amendment, and a few legislators are trying to change that.

The Republican-controlled state Senate Judiciary Committee approved such an amendment Jan. 20 along a 6-4 vote, sending it to the full Senate. It likely would pass there but face an uphill climb in the Democrat-controlled House, where House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer has repeatedly blocked attempts to pass a marriage amendment.

Amending the constitution is a lengthy process under Indiana law, requiring passage in two consecutive sessions of the House and Senate and support by a majority of voters. It nearly made it to the ballot several years ago but stalled in a House committee after Democrats won back the House in 2006. It had already passed the Senate twice and the then-GOP-controlled House once.

A majority of states (30) have adopted constitutional marriage amendments.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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