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State of the Union: Hawaii Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 25, 2010 12:13 PM

On January 22, the Hawaii state Senate finally decided the fate of House Bill 444, granting both heterosexual and same sex couples the right to civil unions. The vote was 18-7 and the bill now moves back to Hawaii's House. Republican Governor Linda Lingle has not yet indicated whether she would veto the measure.

In 1991, the Hawaiian Supreme Court decided the case of Baehr v. Lewin, finding that state's refusal to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples was discriminatory. As a result, the voters amended the state constitution to allow the legislature to reserve the right to only couples of the opposite sex. A law banning same sex marriage followed. Last year, the state House passed the original form of bill 444 allowing civil unions. Under this bill, the civil unions would grant the same rights and benefits under as marriage and would be available to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. The bill had been stalled in the senate for nearly a year until a vote was finally taken Friday.

The bill now returns to the House where there is a question whether it has the votes to survive a veto by Gov. Lingle which would require a two-thirds vote of 34. Last session, the bill passed with 33 votes, with one voting member absent. State House Speaker Calvin Say told the Honolulu Advertiser that the vote would be close and the Democrats would have to caucus on the 25th to decide how to proceed.

Both supporters and opponents of the crowded the gallery for the vote on Friday and were so vociferous in their support or disapproval, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa repeatedly had to pound her gavel to quiet the onlookers.

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