Hawaii could become the 15th U.S. state to embrace marriage equality, depending on the results of a special legislative session Gov. Neil Abercrombie called this week.
Abercrombie, a Democrat who is supportive of the cause, opened the special session on Monday to consider the Marriage Equality Act, which would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Hawaii. If the law passes, Hawaii would have marriage equality beginning November 18, according to NPR.
Today's hearing began with public testimony before the Hawaii Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor at the state capitol in Honolulu. Community members were asked to sign up and submit their testimony ahead of time, then were each allotted one minute to make their case for or against equality. You can watch the livestream of that debate at KITV.
Abercrombie had previously said that he would not call the special session unless he was certain he had enough votes to pass the bill, and Hawaii News Now reports that enough lawmakers have committed to voting favorably to pass the bill through both legislative chambers. The next public hearing is scheduled to begin Thursday, before the House committees on Judiciary and Finance.
But antigay pundits and many religious individuals turned out to testify against the bill at the state capitol in Honolulu on Monday. The National Organization for Marriage began airing a classic homophobic ad on Hawaiian TV stations this weekend, claiming that allowing same-sex couples to marry dishonors the Hawaiian ideal of ohana, or family.
But marriage equality supporters are confident they can ride national momentum in favor of the freedom to marry. Hawaii United for Marriage, the primary coalition advocating for the bill, boasts more than 800 coalition members, with support from avenues as diverse as the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii and the editorial boards of local papers in Honolulu and Maui.
Hawaii has been on a long journey to embracing marriage equality. In 1993 the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex couples wishing to marry, sparking what became a national backlash that resulted in more than 30 U.S. states amending their constitutions to prohibit such marriages, and the creation of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade the government from recognizing as legal any same-sex marriage, in 1996. A key section of that law was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
The Hawaii court case was rendered moot when the state amended its constitution to allow the legislature to define marriage, which it did to the exclusion of same-sex couples. This ban is being challenged in federal court, along with a similar ban in Nevada, reports the Washington Blade. Abercrombie, Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, and Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley all filed briefs opposing Hawaii and Nevada's marriage bans with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the federal court to follow the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer when it dismissed California's Proposition 8 on a technicality and struck down a key provision of DOMA.