Civil unions advanced at the state legislature on Friday, but the issue could run headlong into election-year politics before coming up for final passage.
The measure would create for same sex and opposite couples a form of partnership with the same rights and benefits as marriage. However, whether it will get veto-proof backing in the house could depend on how safe lawmakers think their seats are.
Voters on both sides of the issue filled the state senate gallery to overflowing to see the senate's final stretch of a civil unions marathon carried over from last year.
"Civil unions is simply another name for same-sex marriage," said Senator Mike Gabbard.
"Marriage is not just a word, it is a foundation, a bedrock of our society, it is the cornerstone of civilization."
"To me that's an issue of equality, an issue of the obligation of government to treat all people equally under the law," said Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser.
Civil unions passed by a vote of 18 to 7, a veto-proof margin.
But now, it has to again go back to the house, because very near the end of last session the senate made amendments including offering civil unions to opposite sex couples as well as same sex partners.
"We have to wait and see but we just got a 2/3rds majority here and hopefully we'll have a 2/3 majority in the house and then any vetoes are moot," said Alan Spector of Equality Hawaii.
House lawmakers plan to meet monday to decide how or if to proceed. the house speaker says he prefers the two-thirds veto-proof majority commitment in order to bring the bill to a vote but he says that could be tough in an election year.
"For me it's a civil rights issue but for other members they may have a different tact to say, you know, I don't know how i'm gonna vote because it may impact my election," said Rep. Calvin Say.
Opponents of the issue echoed that risk.
"We'll see the results come november, ok? They went against what the voters wanted."
If passed in its current fashion the effective date is retroactive to january 1st. the state attorney general advised lawmakers this was not a fatal flaw but lawmakers say it could end up being a technicality over which the governor could veto if not on the issue itself.
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