The Hawaii Senate voted 20 to 4 to legalize gay marriage Wednesday. The bill now moves to the House where a heated debate is expected to continue late into Halloween night.
The bill’s passage was inevitable in the Senate, according to Sam Slom, the sole Republican:
"You’ve got a preponderance of Democrats who support it in both Houses, you’ve got the Congressional delegation, you’ve got our Governor!"
Before the hearing, nearly 4,000 pages of written testimony were submitted. Only 40 percent of the submissions favored the bill, according to Democratic Sen. Clayton Hee.
Support in the House is uncertain. However, House Majority Leader Scott Saiki claimed leadership is concerned over the two religious exemptions in the bill.
The provisions are included to “protect religious freedom and liberty by”:
"Ensuring that no clergy or other officer of any religious organization will be required to solemnize any marriage, in accordance with the Hawaii State Constitution and the United States Constitution; and
Clarifying that unless a religious organization allows use of its facilities or grounds by the general public for weddings for a profit, such organization shall not be required to make its facilities or grounds available for solemnization of any marriage celebration."
Such expanded exemptions could allow gay couples to be discriminated against as a separate class of people, Hee claimed as a concern:
“I ask you to expand the meaning of the word ‘aloha’ to truly include everyone."
A 1998 state amendment reserves marriages in Hawaii to opposite-sex couples. The definition was instilled after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of three gay couples who sued the Department of Health for denying their marriage applications.
Senate passage of the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act would make same-sex marriage legal November 18. The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization estimated tourism revenue would increase by $217 million over the next two years as gay couples traveled to the islands for wedding ceremonies.
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