- Special Projects
During the special session, Sen. Clayton Hee was bulletproof.
I may mean that figuratively, but at least in some part, it’s also literal. At Wednesday night’s Civil Cafe, the chairman of the Senate committees on Judiciary and Labor revealed he was wearing a Kevlar vest during the first day of hearings on Senate Bill 1, which would eventually become the Marriage Equality Act. Sen. Hee said he had only worn body armor one other time: during the centennial observance of the Hawaiian overthrow in 1993.
“I’ve been around a long time, but this particular issue really took me by surprise physically, emotionally,” Hee told the gathering of about 70 people. “It took its toll on me. Quite frankly, I didn’t anticipate that. I’ve been through some pretty tough times in my years in public office. Even civil unions wasn’t near the emotion that the special session had.”
Hee said he took the Kevlar off during the first recess of the Senate hearing. He said screening the general public (and even the media) was adequate security for the special session.
“People may say we overreacted, but one only needs to look at the kinds of horrific stories not only against the LGBT community, but with preschools in Connecticut and Colorado,” Hee said. “Some of the emails I received are the most vile that I’ve ever received. And I’ve saved them.”
Although he was not the first, nor was he alone, in championing the two-decades-long debate over same-sex marriage, the senator was a key player during this special session. But it wasn’t arrogance or clairvoyance that led him to declare that same-sex marriage would have only four votes against it on the Senate side of the Legislature.
Instead, he gave credit to state senators for distilling the debate to one about the constitutional rights and protected classes, and not one that involves explaining “the seven days that it took the Creator to create life.”
“People might conclude, ‘Wow he’s pretty arrogant to be predicting that,’ but it wasn’t that,” Hee said. “I was just responding to the question.”
It was also because of his “dead set” insistence that the Senate took on the issue first, regardless of how state House Speaker Joe Souki felt.
“The reason is through my years in office I thought our chamber had it together in terms of where we wanted to be,” Hee said. “If we had to both go first, I was convinced the Senate would pass the bill over. Our floor sessions are shorter. Our public hearings are shorter. In my opinion, we’re a little bit more efficient that way. … We just have less members.”
The other reason is that he expected House members to amend the bill, which it did regarding expanded religious exemptions. He wanted to position the Senate to either agree or disagree with the amendments. Ultimately, the Senate decided to move forward with the amendments.
“The get was same-sex marriage, and the give was an overly broad exemption,” Hee said. “Rather than nitpick and look for a reason to vote no, I looked for every reason to vote yes.”
One member of the audience asked Hee if he had spoken with Rep. Jo Jordan, the openly gay lawmaker who caught national attention by voting no against same-sex marriage.
“She needs to live with her vote, and that’s going to be a part of who she is for the rest of her career,” Hee said.
Although the Senate was accused of “rushing” SB1 through the process, Hee said the issue would’ve been muddied if it had been approached during a regular session, when there are other complex issues to consider.
“Anybody who knows anything about the Legislature would readily conclude that an issue like this could not have been done as comprehensively it was in the special session if it were during the regular session,” Hee said.
Does he fear political ramifications? In short, no, because Hee felt he legislated according to what he felt was right. However, he said he received boxes of 2,000 signatures that said: “You vote yes, we vote no.”
But will there be ramifications? It’s possible, he said.
SB1 supporters in our audience asked the senator what they could do to help. Hee’s answer: Vote.
“First thing is register to vote,” Hee said. “Second thing is go get three, four, five other of your friends. Get them to register to vote. Look at those legislators who have similar passions and have voted the way you like them to vote. … I happen to believe the 2014 elections, some people will be injured who voted for Senate Bill 1. It’s going to take a lot of organizing.”
Hee remains hopeful that the rift between supporters and opponents will heal.
“Sometimes we need to get over hurdle and find out, ‘Hey, not so bad after all.’ … I think over time, things will work out.”