By a veto-proof majority vote of 18-7, the Hawaii Senate passed a civil unions bill today.
The vote was 18 to 7. The Senate rejected an amendment to change the effective date of the bill, which is Jan. 1, 2010. The bill would allow same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law. The state House passed a civil-unions bill last session that would only apply to same-sex couples. House leaders have said they would wait and see what the Senate vote was before deciding whether to move forward on the Senate version of the bill. An overflow crowd filled the Senate gallery for the debate, with many supporters of the bill wearing rainbow colored lei and many opponents dressed in white t-shirts. Several senators described the bill as a step toward equality for same-sex couples. “For me, it is about equal treatment,” said state Sen. Rosalyn Baker, D-5th (S. Maui, W. Maui).
Here’s what happens next:
State House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, Wilhelmina Rise), said majority Democrats will likely meet on Monday in private caucus to decide how to proceed. Say said one of the factors will be whether the House can muster a two-thirds’ majority — 34 of 51 lawmakers — to override a veto. The House voted 33 to 17 last session on civil unions, with one lawmaker absent. Say described the vote count now as close. Say, who supports civil unions, said he would recommend that the House not attempt to address a technical flaw in the Senate version and decide simply whether to send the bill to the governor.
Hawaii Lt. Governor James Aiona promised that even if the bill should be submitted with a veto-proof margin, it will be overturned by public referendum in November.