Hawaiian Senate Vote on Civil Union Bill Expected Friday

A full Hawaii Senate vote on a bill that would legalize same-sex civil unions in the state could take place as early as Friday after having been postponed last year.

"It is my understanding that it will be put on the Order of the Day (agenda) Thursday and put it up for a vote on Friday," said Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, according to the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

HB 444, which would allow same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples to obtain all of the rights and benefits of legally married couples, was passed by the Hawaii House of Representatives in February 2009 and amended to include opposite-sex couples. Though the bill was passed in the Senate in May 2009, its advancement was stalled after protests, carried over into the 2010 session.

Supporters of traditional marriage say the measure undermines the institution of marriage and the will of the Hawaiian people, who in 1998 voted 70 to 30 percent to affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman.

They say gay civil unions are "same-sex marriage by another name."

"In many places throughout our country and the world, and now here in Hawaii, some are attempting to distort this natural relationship by claiming the right of persons of the same sex to marry. They point out that it is discriminatory to allow opposite-sex couples to marry but to disallow the same for same-sex couples," wrote Catholic Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu in a letter earlier this month urging some 220,000 parishioners to lobby lawmakers.

"And they are correct! It is discriminatory, making distinctions between one and another. But not all discrimination is unjust. Some is quite justified because it is based on reality and truth," he added.

"While every person, no matter his or her sexual orientation, is worthy of dignity and respect and has certain inalienable rights given by the Creator, there is no right for people of the same sex to call their unions marriage. ("Civil unions" is simply a euphemism for same-sex marriage.)"

This past Sunday, around 15,000 Hawaiians rallied outside the state's capitol building, urging legislators not to pass HB 444. The turnout was larger than the year before, when as many as 12,000 rallied ahead of a senate committee hearing on the bill.

Conservatives in the state are hoping this year's rally will have as big an impact as last year's.