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BREAKING: Hawaii Senate OK's Marriage Equality; On to House

By Trudy Ring

The Hawaii marriage equality bill is closer to becoming law: The state Senate approved it in a 20-4 vote today, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

The bill goes to a committee hearing in the state House tomorrow; that could take all day and go into Friday, the newspaper notes. The House, where the vote is likely to be closer, may try to put more religious exemptions into the measure. It currently exempts clergy members who oppose same-sex marriage from having to perform such unions, but it does not allow for-profit businesses to refuse, on religious grounds, to provide wedding-related services to gay couples. An amended bill would have to go back to the Senate for another vote.

Clayton Hee, chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Labor, called today’s vote “a defining moment in all of our careers” and compared it to such landmarks as legalizing abortion and embracing interracial marriage. Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, the only Republican in the chamber, downplayed it and said it was not historic. “Hysteric it may be,” said Slom, who wants the public to decide the issue through a constitutional amendment.

Hawaii already amended its constitution once on this score. In 1998 voters approved an amendment allowing the legislature to define marriage, which it did to the exclusion of same-sex couples. This negated a state Supreme Court decision that not allowing these couples to marry violated the Hawaii constitution. The state currently offers civil unions to same-sex couples.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie has pledged to sign the marriage equality bill into law.

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