October 30, 2013 at 11:58 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Hawaii Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Hawaii, gay news, Washington Blade

Hawaii on Thursday became one step closer to extending marriage to same-sex couples when the state Senate overwhelmingly approved a gay nuptials bill. (Photo by Omar A. via Creative Commons)

The Hawaii Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The 20-4 vote took place a day after the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee backed the measure after it heard testimony from supporters and opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians for nearly 12 hours.

“This is a defining moment in all of our careers and we should embrace it,” state Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kaneohe) said as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

The state Senate approved the same-sex marriage bill two days after a special legislative session that Gov. Neil Abercrombie called to consider the issue began.

Gays and lesbians are currently able to legally marry in 14 states and D.C.

Hawaii voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban same-sex marriage.

The Aloha State’s civil unions law took effect in 2012, but a federal judge in August of that year dismissed a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples who sought marriage rights in Hawaii.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling, and it is pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit alongside a lawsuit that seeks marriage rights for same-sex couples in Nevada. Abercrombie and 14 state attorneys general on Oct. 26 filed briefs with the court that urge it to rule in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in the two states.

LGBT rights advocates have also filed same-sex marriage lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia and other states since the U.S. Supreme Court in June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8.

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to refer the same-sex marriage bill to a joint committee.

The Associated Press reported House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D-Honolulu) said lawmakers will likely amend the measure to add non-profit businesses to the list of those that would fall under its religious exemption provision. The bill’s supporters remain confident it has enough votes to pass in the chamber, but observers expect the hearing will likely take two days because of the amount of people who have signed up to testify for and against it.

Hawaii Family Advocates President Jim Hochberg is among those who have called for a referendum on nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Aloha State.

Abercrombie has said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if lawmakers approve it.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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