Gov. Neil Abercrombie has given state lawmakers a slightly revised version of the gay marriage bill they are set to hear when the hotly anticipated special session starts Monday.

There are some subtle, though significant, differences concerning religious exemptions between the governor’s version and Senate Bill 1, which is expected to be introduced by Sen. Brickwood Galuteria.

The primary distinction is the governor’s version clearly states that nothing in his bill trumps the state’s public accommodations law, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation when a facility is rented for commercial use.

If the bill passes, a church that qualifies as a place of public accommodation couldn’t rent out its space for a preschool and then refuse to let the public rent it for a gay wedding, for instance.

The governor’s version also has a provision that says religious organizations don’t have to make their facilities available for a marriage if they don’t operate “primarily as a for-profit business.”

SB 1 has no reference to the public accommodations law. It protects religious organizations from any fines or civil liability related to their refusal to make their facilities or grounds available provided they don’t make their space available to the general public for the solemnization of any marriage celebration for a profit.

That seems to be the legalese way of saying a church can pick what type of weddings — gay or straight — it will let use its grounds as long as it doesn’t make a profit off it. All or nothing.

SB 1 will likely be the vehicle the Legislature uses to move the gay marriage bill toward passage, but it could be amended in the process.

The Senate is expected to pass a gay marriage bill with ease, but the House is less certain.

In September, Civil Beat surveyed the 51 House lawmakers and found that 27 were in favor of gay marriage, 16 were opposed and eight had reservations. Lawmakers and political insiders said this week that the tally of “yes” votes is now in the low 30s.

This and That

The governor’s latest draft of the gay marriage bill was unveiled Friday when it was posted on the Capitol website. Civil Beat had been asking for a copy of the revised legislation since Tuesday when the governor’s office announced that it had provided an updated version to the Legislature that further balanced equal protection and religious freedom.

While the religious exemptions are the main differences between the two proposed bills, the other issue the governor may want to ask lawmakers to address if they consider his version of the bill is its name. He has been carefully referring to the proposed law as a “marriage equity” bill, including the transmittal of the revised draft to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

However, despite the other changes his newly revised draft contains, it left the first line intact, which says: “This Act shall be known as the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013.”

It may seem minor, but politicians and the public have been very deliberate in the words they use. Supporters have made a concerted effort to move away from “same-sex marriage” and instead call it “marriage equality,” or in some cases, “marriage equity.”

Reporters asked Abercrombie at a press conference in September why he chose to call it “marriage equity.”

He said marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples are “a question of equity,” that is, “fair treatment for everyone.”

The special session opens at 10 a.m. Monday. Lawmakers are expected to work on the gay marriage bill, and dozens of other pieces of legislation concerning appointments and appropriations, over the following week or two.

Visit the Capitol website to track bills, submit testimony and see meeting schedules.

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