By Gina Mangieri
The decade-old battle lines over same-sex marriage in Hawaii are being redrawn as lawmakers consider civil unions.
Opponents of civil union measures say it's just same-sex marriage in a different package. Supporters say public opinion has shifted since Hawaii became the first state to ban gay marriage in its constitution.
An overflow crowd came to testify on one of several measures that would give same-sex partners rights through civil unions much like those in legal marriage.
"My wife got sick not long ago, she was in the hospital, no one questioned my right to be there by her side," said Eric Gill, representing the Local 5 union.
Opponents stood sharply against any other rights beyond the reciprocal beneficiaries status conferred as a compromise after Hawaii's gay marriage ban.
"You will be circumventing the will of the 70 percent of the people who voted your constituents who set you a strong and clear message by their vote to preserve traditional marriage," said opponent Honolulu City Councilmember Gary Okino.
"The public opinion on this issue has changed dramatically," said proponent Alan Spector of the Family Equality Coalition. “Today in 2009 this is not the controversial issue that is was in the 1990s."
"If we feel that the tide has changed and that the people of Hawaii are now saying that we want same-sex marriage, then let's put it to a (public) vote," said Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, an opponent of civil unions.
"In a session which will likely be remembered for budget cuts and a struggling economy, this is your opportunity to make history," said civil union supporter Brian Schatz of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
The measures have strong House support but could face a tougher battle in the Senate, especially before seasoned opponents of the issue like Sen. Mike Gabbard.
"I think the people here are sick and tired of this issue, of it being crammed down their throats,” said Gabbard, a member of the Senate Judiciary committee. “We've got issues such as the economy, very real issues that affect all of the families here."
“This bill is about economic justice for all,” Gill said. “It's a bill about the right of each and every citizen to expect equal treatment from our government.”
Four separate measures propose creating civil unions, repealing the definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, or recognizing gay marriages conducted in other jurisdictions.
“This is a copy of my marriage license, issued by the province of Ontario," said Spector, holding up the document validating his union to another man. “The moment we landed on this beautiful island, our marriage was invalidated, and that is a very painful thing. How would any of you feel if we told you your marriages are invalidated?"
Today's was the first hearing on any of the bills. The links to all of the measures are as follows:
HB444 Civil Union (House version): Extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.
SB458 Civil Union (Senate version): Extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.
HB878 Redefine marriage: Repeals language that defines or refers to marriage as being limited to a relationship between a man and a woman and instead specifies that the relationship is one between two persons.
HB309 Recognizing same-sex marriage from elsewhere: Recognizes marriages that are valid in country where the marriage was contracted, whether or not the marriage is heterosexual in nature.