Shrugging off any political consequences to his 2014 re-election, Abercrombie said “marriage equity” is “the right thing to do.”
Why Oct. 28? The governor, speaking at a press conference at the state Capitol, said the date is based on the logistics needed to bring Hawaii’s 76 legislators into special session. It gives lawmakers the time necessary to work on the issue efficiently and productively, he said, probably over a five-day session. In a statement Monday, House Speaker Joe Souki said the six weeks between now and Oct. 28 gives the public time to comment on the proposed legislation. Read the governor’s proclamation here.
Why not wait until the 2014 legislative session? Abercrombie said “serious and deep and wide-ranging consequences” could happen with regard to federal tax law, so Hawaii must legalize same-sex marriage no later than Dec. 31. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Law in late June, the Internal Revenue Service said it will allow gay couples to file jointly. As well, President Barack Obama directed his administration to take steps to allow same-sex spouses of military veterans to have access to federal benefits.
What does the proposed bill say about religious exemptions? The latest draft is modeled on Hawaii’s civil unions law and similar marriage laws in other states. It exempts clergy and churches that oppose same-sex marriage from performing or holding ceremonies unless church facilities are used for commercial purposes. Abercrombie said he believes the latest draft respects religious differences.
Does the governor have the votes? Both Abercrombie and House Majority Leader Scott Saiki expressed confidence that a majority of representatives would support the legislation, at minimum the 26 votes required and, according to Saiki, probably more. Saiki said some members were scheduled to be out of town during the session, but now that a date is set some legislators can adjust their schedules. The state Senate has a comfortable majority in favor of the bill.
What legislative committees will hear the same-sex marriage bill? The House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee. The governor has praised the work of the committee chairmen, Rep. Karl Rhoads and Sen. Clayton Hee, suggesting that the hearing process could go fairly smoothly; Hee, for example, is known for telling testifiers that they should not repeat testimony already stated. That said, the hearing process will still likely be long and emotional.
When would same-sex marriage be legal here? If legislation is passed, Abercrombie expects to sign it into law by Nov. 18. Attorney General David Louie said the administration has been working with the state Department of Health to set up the necessary paperwork process.
What happens to civil unions? Nothing. Couples can still choose to enter civil unions or get married.
What happens to lawsuits against the state challenging the constitutionality of Hawaii’s 1998 ban on gay marriage? The governor believes they will be dropped, but other legal challenges could still arise.
How will Hawaii’s same-sex marriage legislation affect other states? If signed into law come November, Hawaii will become the 14th state to allow same-sex marriage. The District of Columbia also allows it. Abercrombie said Hawaii’s action would no doubt become part of the “national conversation.” Hawaii also stands to benefit economically from increased travel to the island for honeymoons and weddings.
Did the governor really not consider politics when he ordered a special session? Of course he did. His popularity is below 50 percent and he faces a challenger in next year’s Democratic primary. The news of the special session was trumpeted both by his office and his campaign and through the social media world.
How will opponents of gay marriage react to a special session? They are expected to exercise their democratic right and lobby their legislators. Some opponents, including the Hawaii Christian Coalition, GOP Rep. Bob McDermott and the Hawaii Republican Assembly — a sort of minority wing of the minority party — warn that same-sex marriage will allow “bisexual, polygamists and behaviors of every stripe to demand legal protection,” as McDermott put it Monday in a press release.
Why is it called “marriage equity”? That was Abercrombie’s idea. Alternately called “gay marriage,” “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality,” the governor says marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples “is a question of equity,” that is, “fair treatment for everyone.” Equity, said the governor, is a “singular hallmark of democracy.”
What if Civil Beat did not answer all my questions? The Abercrombie administration is expected to post a “frequently asked questions,” or FAQ section on the governor’s website very shortly.
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