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Legislative progress on same-sex marriage had to wait another day.
The Hawaii House Judiciary and Finance committees decided at 10:30 p.m. Monday to defer any decision-making on legislation granting same-sex couples the right to marry until Tuesday, at the earliest.
Earlier in the day, people opposed to gay marriage returned to the Capitol Auditorium in droves on the eighth day of the special legislative session called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Many were encouraged to attend by religious leaders and conservative lawmakers who have argued that delaying a vote on the bill will increase their chances of defeating it.
The de facto filibuster led to some unscrupulous practices though.
Lawmakers’ complaints that some testifiers had proxies speak in their place during Saturday’s similar marathon hearing spurred changes in security requiring testifiers to show photo identification Monday.
Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, and Elwin Ahu, a senior pastor at New Hope Metro, were among the SB 1 opponents who distributed detailed advice on how to testify. Among their identical instructions:
So for example, if John Doe has a number but cannot testify because he’s at work, he has Jane Smith show up on his behalf and read his testimony. Jane is NOT REPLACING John’s testimony with her own but is reading his testimony to the group in order to waste time!
Scott Foster, a longtime gay rights activist and communications director of Advocates for Consumer Rights, called the tactic “cheating” and “dirty political tricks.” He and other supporters of SB 1 said it was part of a plan to delay SB 1 to death.
“So much for ‘Christian moral values,'” Foster said in an email Monday to his subscribers.
It’s unclear exactly how many of the 5,184 people who have signed up to testify before the House committees — and have not already had their turn at the mic — will return Tuesday. Rough estimates suggest that 1,000 or so have testified since the hearing began Thursday, leaving a huge pool of people who could still speak.
But lawmakers committed themselves from the beginning to listen to everyone who signed up to testify, so they are set to get back at it and take action on the bill later Tuesday — if they get through the list.
Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads said to his knowledge, “There has never been a bill in the history of Hawaii that has had a hearing this long.”
Monday’s hearing on SB1 drew reams of written testimony in addition to those who spoke. It began at 11 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium with a young gay man expressing his desire to have a husband.
He was followed by a father who said he was mortified to learn that his children were forced to put condoms on bananas at school (a sex-ed lesson, it seems), and a Japanese woman who said animals of the same sex don’t have sex with one another and therefore people shouldn’t either. (Beside, it will turn off Asian visitors, she added.)
People register to testify on Senate Bill 1, Nov. 4, 2013, at the Capitol Auditorium.
The pattern observed in previous testimony quickly became apparent: An overwhelming majority of testifiers opposed SB 1 and for much the same reasons.
They believe marriage is between one man and one woman; gay people can’t procreate; the bill violates their faith; the bill is contrary to the First Amendment; it will ruin tourism; it will force schools to teach the “homosexual lifestyle;” it will spread sexually transmitted diseases; it will lead to polygamy; it’s a choice to be gay; they love the “sinner” but not the “sin;” they will vote lawmakers out of office if they pass SB 1; God will destroy Hawaii and the life of the land will no longer be “perpetuated in righteousness.”
“Let the people decide,” SB 1 opponents insisted, referring to putting the issue before voters in the form of a constitutional amendment question.
“SB 1 stands for ‘Stupid Bill No. 1,'” said another opponent.
Those in support of SB 1 had a simpler message that boiled down to this: It’s about equal rights; we’ve discussed this for decades; being gay is not a choice; and don’t even think about putting this on the ballot because rights don’t rely on a majority vote.
“Thank you very much,” Rhoads said, hundreds of times. “Next testifier, please.”
Whether legislators or the public learned anything new from Monday’s testimony seems in doubt since nearly all of the oral testimony repeated things that were already said before the House committees and the Senate Judiciary and Labor committee on Oct. 28.
One of the most surprising moments came in testimony Monday from the head of Hawaii’s police union, Tenari Maafala, a Honolulu cop. He was adamant that he would never enforce a gay marriage law.
“You would have to kill me,” he said. “I stand by my beliefs.”
What was also new on Monday was a memorandum from Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who complained in writing about how the testimony process was being conducted. At one point, Oshiro — who does not sit on Judiciary or Finance and opposes the special session to hear SB 1 — set up a table in the hallway outside of the auditorium in case anyone wanted to hear what he had to say.
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, Capitol basement, Nov. 4. 2013.
Inside the auditorium, Rhoads and Luke called testifiers and briskly moved the process along.
Sometimes, however, the chairs clashed with their colleagues, as when Luke admonished fellow Democrat Ken Ito for asking too many questions of a testifier; Ito countered that he had only asked two questions in three days of hearings, unlike some other legislators. Rhoads, meanwhile, told Republican Richard Fale he was repeating questions and slowing the process; that led Har to jump to Fale’s defense, arguing that he was asking something new.
Based on a Civil Beat survey of legislators in September, the House had the votes to pass the bill and it’s even more lopsided when looking at who will likely vote in favor of it in the committees. But it’s still a fairly narrow margin, unlike the Senate which easily passed SB 1 unamended last week.
Whenever they finish hearing testimony, the Finance and Judiciary committee are expected to pass an amendment broadening religious exemptions and then send the bill to the full House for its approval.
Assuming that happens, the bill would return to the Senate. It could choose to accept the House’s recommendations and send the bill to the governor for his signature, reject the changes and kill the bill or — and this is most likely — appoint conference committee members to craft a compromise with the House.
The House committees are set to resume the hearing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol Auditorium.