Hawaii Debates Marriage Equality Bill Opposed by Religious Groups

Oct 28, 2013

  The Hawaii legislature has opened a special session to look at a bill legalizing same-sex marriages.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other conservative religious groups oppose the legislation, but it appears likely to pass.

Hawaii was the first state to amend its state constitution on the definition of marriage, but the amendment passed in 1998 doesn’t say whether same-sex marriages are prohibited.  Instead, it gives that power to the legislature.  Governor Neil Abercrombie called the session to look at a bill that repeals an existing law on marriage and requires the state to sanction both marriage and divorce without regard to gender.

The bill has strong support in the Hawaii Senate, but as the session began, Senator David Ige urged his colleagues to be thoughtful.

“I would just encourage each of us to step back to allow our communities to speak on these issues, consider their concerns and make amendments as appropriate as we work to find the right balance between the rights of same-sex couples and the churches and the clergy working in our communities," Ige said.

The LDS church and others are pushing for a strong religious exemption in the bill that would keep churches from being required to recognize or perform same-sex marriages in their facilities if it conflicts with their beliefs.

Michael Golojuch, a Democratic Party activist who’s been campaigning for the change, thinks that’s a potential problem with the bill.

“If you’re gonna start with same-sex couples, where’s the next person you’re gonna discriminate against because it’s part of your religion," Golojuch told KUER.  "You gonna be able to pick out somebody of a different faith?  And that just starts down a very slippery slope that nobody should want to go down.”

The session will continue for the next several days.  The website Hawaii News Now says the vote could be close in the state House of Representatives, with 26 votes needed to pass and just 27 legislators saying they plan to vote for the bill.

The session is being streamed online from the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu