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Gay Marriage Goes to Final Hawaii House Vote

Friday Nov 8, 2013

Hawaii House lawmakers were poised to take their final vote Friday on a bill to legalize gay marriage on the islands, with strong chances the measure will pass and move to the Senate for its second approval.

House members planned to return to the floor Friday morning for their final debate after a five-day public committee hearing and an 11-hour floor session earlier this week. The debate played out amid noisy crowds outside the chamber and maneuvering inside from lawmakers for and against the bill.

The bill is likely to pass, as indicated by the vote to push the measure to its final reading and smaller votes to reject amendments and motions by opponents.

Capitol officials planned tighter crowd control and a live broadcast of the vote on the Web and on community TV stations throughout the islands.

If passed, same-sex marriages would begin Dec. 2 in the state. The bill in its current form exempts clergy and religious organizations from having to solemnize or provide services for same-sex weddings, going slightly further than the exemption passed by the Senate. After their hearing, the House Judiciary and Finance committees also deleted language from the bill that established guidelines for children of gay couples to claim state benefits for Native Hawaiians.

The Senate will have to pass the bill a second time because of the House changes. It can pass the bill with no further changes on the floor, or send the bill to a conference committee, where the chambers would iron out any differences.

Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, said it's too early to tell whether a conference committee would be necessary.

"The changes that they made, in my opinion, are not significant changes," Hee told The Associated Press.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Attorney General David Louie have urged both chambers to pass the bill in its current form. Louie says it's constitutional.

No matter how things play out, Hee said, the Legislature will legalize same-sex marriage and stop treating gay couples as second-class citizens.

"That's a huge consideration no matter what we do going forward," he said.

Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican who plans to vote against the bill, has promised a second court challenge. A judge on Thursday denied his request for a temporary restraining order but said he would hear a challenge if a law is passed.

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