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Same-sex marriage hearing begins with tough questions

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Oct 28 2013 07:53:12 PM HST
Updated On: Oct 28 2013 07:55:36 PM HST

State lawmakers are tackling the hotly debated same-sex issue in a special session called by Governor Neil Abercrombie.

HONOLULU -

Close to 2,000 people submitted testimony saying they wanted to appear in person at a state Senate hearing on same-sex marriage on Monday.

That meant limiting the time to one minute for each person and giving numbers to people as a way to control crowds and tempers.

Click here watch Catherine Cruz's 5 p.m. report.

For those who think it's a slam dunk for supporters eager to see Hawaii become the 15th state to approve gay marriage, the first half hour of the Senate hearing certainly shook things up.

Lawmakers pressed the state's top lawyer for answers about tax implications and federal benefits, but the issues seemed more confused than clarified.

The attorney general said if a law isn't passed, same-sex couples would continue to lose out on health benefits under Medicaid and the Family Leave Act.

"The reason we would enact this bill here in Hawaii is that the people of the same gender who wish to get married do no have to go to another state," said Hawaii Attorney General David Louie.  "They would get married here and then receive those benefits."

"If it is as simple as a ticket to California, and I don't mean to be flippant, don't misunderstand me.  If it is just a ticket then the burden that has been placed on this legislature to me has been ameliorated, if it's as simple as your response," said Sen. Clayton Hee.

"In my view, senator, it is something that is significant and that would be a reason to pass this bill," said Louis.

"The only thing you are arguing is that people would have to go to California and people go to California frequently," said Sen. Sam Slom.  "So, if that is the law and that is the answer, Mr. Chairman, I think we should adjourn the meeting and adjourn the session."

The testimony that followed on both sides of the issue drew impassioned pleas for equality and fairness in the legislative process.

"I suggest it's time for Hawaii to join South Africa and time to join Iowa in this recognition.  This is the land of aloha and this is our opportunity to live it," said retired chief justice Steven Levinson.

"I found love has no boundaries and it's time to embrace marriage equality in love and equality for all," said Jackie Young of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Our ministers would welcome the opportunity to perform weddings for same gender couples, as it also affirms our spiritual values," said Bishop Eric Matsumoto of the Hongwanji Mission.

"The reservation of marriage of one man and one woman is a fact of nature, not a social prejudice," said Rev. Gary Secor of the Hawaii Catholic Conference.

"I feel we need to give the voice to our people.  Take it to the community.  A special session is inadequate," said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees Chairperson Collette Machado.

One church worried about being forced to open their facilities up to gay weddings.

"The language of the bill endangers the rights of others in the community, especially churches and endangers the language of the bill opens us up to public accommodations.  We never thought of it that way," said Rev. Francis Oda of New Life Church.

The Senate will take a floor vote on the bill on Wednesday.  The House hearing begins at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The lawmakers took one brief break at around 2:30 p.m. Monday.  The hearing could go to midnight if all 1,800 people testify.

Click here to see photos from the special session.

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