Tackling HB444: Civil-Unions Bill

The weekend is over and so is the break from reality.  There is no better way to start the week than diving right into the fray and making a splash.  Today the focus is on HB444 currently in the Hawaii Legislature.

HB444 is a bill aimed at the legalization of civil unions between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples in the state of Hawaii.  The bill was introduced and was passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives on February 2009.  The bill was then referred to the Senate where it failed to pass committee during hearings in the Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations that same month.  Senate rules allowed for the bill to be taken out of committee for debate in the full Senate after March 10, 2009.  However, after a rally of at least 2,000 opponents of the bill, there was not enough support in the Senate for the bill to be moved.  On May 7, 2009, the motion to bring the bill before the full Senate was reintroduced by Sen. Les Ihara.  The motion passed and debate on the bill began.  However, Senate leaders and those that were opposed to the bill voted to approve an amendment to HB444 that would distinguish between marriage and civil unions.  The changes made to the bill required that the House approve the new language.  This led to the bill being essentially killed for the session as the legislature adjourned the following day.

The bill was carried over into the 2010 session where it was still in debate in the Senate.  The amendment that was attached during the 2009 session would require another approval from the House.  Speaker of the House Calvin Say stated that the approval of the House would hinge on the ability for the Senate to provide a veto-proof majority vote.  On January 22, 2010, HB444 passed the Senate with a veto-proof two-thirds majority.  However, a week later, Speaker Say moved that the bill be indefinitely postponed.  The motion passed by voice vote and would only be brought back by a two-thirds vote by the House of Representatives.  The motion essentially killed the bill for the session.

HB444 is seen as a push for equal rights of same-sex couples.  The bill allows for the same benefits as allotted married couples to be provided for same-sex couples.  The introduction of the bill has brought a large audience to the Hawaii Legislature.  The bill has seen large rallies held by the opposition and by supporters.  Opponents claim that the bill in an infringement on the sacred institution of marriage.  Opponents of the bill point to religion as a reason for killing the bill.  Religious beliefs dictate that same-sex couples go against God and are an abomination.  Opponents say that marriage has been defined by God as a union between a man and a woman.  Many claim that the bill promotes gay marriage under cover of a different name.  This opposition has drawn many of Hawaii’s religious politicians and has the support of various religious sects.

HB444 attracted much support and oppostition within the community.

Supporters of the bill claim that HB444 is a separate issue from gay marriage and only touches on civil-unions.  Supporters argue that religion should be kept separate from dealing with the rights of people and that same-sex unions would not affect the integrity of traditional marriage.  Support has come from the gay community as well as civil rights organizations.  Many supporters argue that religion should be taken out of the governing process and that it is unfair to expect homosexual citizens to contribute to the government when their rights and privileges are not protected by the government.  HB444 aims to provide equal rights and protection to the gay and lesbian community of Hawaii.

Aside from religion, there is little reason to protest HB444.  The bill would allow for equal rights and protection to a growing gay and lesbian community in Hawaii.  The bill would enable Hawaii to increase the amounts taken in for fees and licensing that would accompany civil-unions.  Small businesses would benefit from an increase in visitors to Hawaii that are same-sex couples here to enter into a civil-union.  At a time when tourism is lagging, the potential of this legislation on the economy is astounding.  States that have adopted similar measures have seen significant boosts in tourism and money being spent on local businesses.  Hawaii’s tourism industry would be able to fashion special packages to attract same-sex couples looking to legitimize their partnerships.  The extra money flowing into the state would help defer budget cuts and employer layoffs.  More money coming into the state means more jobs for Hawaii’s residents.

HB444 is a conflict between religious conservatives and equal rights activists.  It is a conflict of religion and state.  The pros outnumber the cons in this argument.  HB444 deserves to be put to a roll call vote in the Hawaii House of Representatives.  It is time for our elected officials to make a decision on this bill.  Hawaii’s economy needs this bill desperately.  Hawaii’s gay and lesbian community deserve to be protected and afforded equal rights.  It is time we treat all of Hawaii’s people with respect.  This country was founded on the belief of a separation of Church and State.  We must continue to follow this belief and judge this bill on its overall merits and not our own religious restrictions.  HB444 should be passed and needs to be passed.  It is time for Hawaii to live up to its moniker as the Aloha State.

Get Informed and get Involved!

—Editor’s Note—

for more information on HB444 visit the Hawaii Legislature website.

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