Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has called a special legislative session next month in an attempt to move forward a bill that legalizes gay marriage.
In a news conference Monday afternoon, Abercrombie announced the session would begin Oct. 28. State Attorney General David Louie said same-sex marriage licenses could be issued as soon as Nov. 18 if the state House and Senate pass the controversial legislation.
"We've taken into account many different views, and I believe that we have a very good bill that should meet favor," said Louie, who stood by the governor during the announcement.
Ever since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June said the federal government must award marriage benefits to gay couples, the governor has been pressured by same-sex lobbyists to call a special session. Abercrombie said he respects both sides of the contentious issue, but after 20 years of debate he felt it was time to take action.
"I'm confident that whether it advances or not is not the issue," Abercrombie told reporters. "The question is whether people believe that they have been treated fairly and respectfully."
If lawmakers pass a same-sex marriage bill, Hawaii would join 13 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing gay marriage. Hawaii is already among a handful of states that allow same-sex civil unions, which gay marriage advocates say stops short of the full marriage benefits.
Under draft legislation currently on the governor's website, the same-sex marriage bill would provide certain exemptions to churches and other religious organizations.
The bill states churches would not have to make facilities they own or lease available for the solemnization of a particular marriage, but they would still be subject to Hawaii's public accommodation's law.
"The general concern is that as long as a religious entity is using its facilities for commercial purposes, then it shouldn't be protected, and that's what we're grappling with right now," said Rep. Scott Saiki, the House Democratic majority leader who supports same-sex marriage.
Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican who's in favor of traditional marriage, said churches could lose an important revenue stream if they want to bar gay couples from renting their facilities.
"If a church has a social hall and they rent it to the VFW, war heroes, now they have to rent it to homosexual groups because it's a civil right," said McDermott.
Same-sex marriage opponents are also concerned about the codification of other types of marriages if gay couples are granted what many proponents now refer to as a civil right.
"If it's a civil right, then it's a civil right for everyone," said McDermott. "That means the bisexual can have their husband and wife because it's a civil right, and civil rights aren't selective."
When asked about other types of marriages becoming legal, Abercrombie said the issue would likely be decided in court.
"We try to put together a bill that maximizes the capacity for mischief not to occur," said the governor. "If there are individuals or groups who want to try and figure out ways to marginalize or run around the issue, this is a free country and I suppose they can do it."
If same-sex marriage is legalized in Hawaii, gay couples would still have the option of a civil union. Those who have already entered a civil union could also apply for a marriage license.