Hawaii is poised to join the list of states to allow same-sex marriage after the state’s House of Representatives on Friday night approved a bill legalizing such unions.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he would sign the bill, SB1.
The state's Senate passed a similar bill, 20 to 4, late last month.
The House vote culminated an extraordinary committee hearing in which 5,000 people signed up to testify on the bill.
Most of the debate Friday centered on amendments that would broaden exemptions for churches and religious organizations that do not want to be involved in gay weddings.
“How do we protect individuals and give other individuals rights? I haven't heard that question answered yet,” Rep. Jo Jordan, a Democrat who is openly gay, said on the floor, summing up most of the House debate regarding exemptions.
The bill will return to the Senate, where any House amendments would be considered.
On Oct. 28, Abercrombie required by proclamation that both houses of the Legislature meet to consider same-sex marriage legislation.
He said he wanted the Legislature “to focus squarely on this important issue, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session.”
Hawaii and Illinois are the latest states to move toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Lawmakers in Illinois passed a same-sex marriage bill Tuesday that Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign. Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Hawaii allows civil unions for same-sex couples.
A group of people opposed to same-sex marriage had sought a temporary restraining order to block Abercrombie from signing any such measure passed by the Legislature, but Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled Thursday that the action would be premature.
But the judge has said he is willing to hear the case at a later date, said attorney Jack Dwyer, who represents the group.
The plaintiffs contend that a 1998 state constitutional amendment prohibits the Legislature from allowing same-sex marriage, and they want to prevent any government official from issuing a marriage license until the question of constitutionality is decided.
State Atty. Gen. David Louie said the Legislature had the authority to approve same-sex marriage regardless of the amendment.
The gay marriage movement in Hawaii grew after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.
Abercrombie said in a statement at the time, “In Hawaii, we believe in fairness, justice and human equality, and that everyone is entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else, including the ability to get married.
“I believe my position to support a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Hawaii and elsewhere was given a substantial boost by today’s Supreme Court rulings. I will continue to work to assure justice and equality for all.”
An analysis in 2011 by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that there were more than 8 million adults in the country who were lesbian, gay or bisexual — about 3.5% of the adult population.
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