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Civil union legislation moves forward in Hawaii state House

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Civil union legislation moves forward in Hawaii state House

Same-sex partnership bill approved by panel, headed for House

Source: Honolulu Advertiser

The state House Judiciary Committee last night approved a bill allowing same-sex partners to enter into civil unions, sending the bill to the full House in what some activists see as a historic step toward equality.

The bill would give partners who join in civil unions the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as married couples under state law. Hawai'i would also recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Last night, lawmakers agreed to amend the bill to prevent partners who have registered with the state as reciprocal beneficiaries from also entering into civil unions. The reciprocal beneficiaries law was passed a decade ago to give partners some of the benefits of marriage, a compromise after the public rejection of same-sex marriage.

State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also made clear that the bill would not redefine marriage in state law, which is between one man and one woman.

While civil unions are not the same as marriage, Karamatsu said, the bill would end some of the discrimination against gays and lesbians. "This is the last of the major equal-rights issues still on the table," he said.

State House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, D-33rd ('Aiea, Halawa Valley, 'Aiea Heights), the bill's sponsor, also saw significance in the moment. "The battle is far from over, of course, but this is a major and significant first step," he said.

Oshiro said he believes there are enough votes for civil unions in the House, which could take up the bill as early as next week. In the state Senate, however, the outlook is murky. The Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee is split 3-2 in favor of civil unions with a sixth member, state Sen. Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa), still undecided.

If the bill were to fail in committee, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), would have to gauge whether there is enough support for civil unions in the chamber to pry the bill out. A one-third vote

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