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Abercrombie calls special session on marriage equity

MEDIA RELEASE

Under Section 10 of Article III of the State Constitution, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has called both houses of the state Legislature to convene in a special session on Oct. 28 to address the issue of marriage equity.

“The decision to call a special session is based on doing what is right to create equity for all in Hawaii,” Abercrombie said. “As a former legislator, I have great respect for the Legislature and the legislative process. The merits of holding a special session include the opportunity for the Legislature to focus squarely on this important issue, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session. In addition, if full advantage of various tax and other financial issues is to be achieved for citizens, passage before the end of the calendar year is essential.”

Since last June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department have ruled that same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions recognizing their marriages will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs announced that gay married couples will be eligible for veteran’s benefits, and the Pentagon announced that married same-sex couples will be eligible for the same health care, housing and separation benefits as married opposite-sex couples.

“My office has received many e-mails, letters and telephone calls from constituents on both sides of the marriage equity issue, and I have responded with assurance that my administration will meet our responsibilities for due diligence in consideration of all views and legal considerations,” Abercrombie said.

During a special session, all constitutional and legal requirements that govern the Legislature must still be met. The House and Senate internal rules are also the same, both of which require a public hearing before any bill is passed.

Last month, the governor shared with legislators and the news media a marriage equity bill based on Senate Bill 1369, which was introduced in the 2013 regular session.

Community input was taken into consideration while the state Attorney General’s office worked closely with elected officials and a number of legislative staff to craft and further refine the bill.

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Frequently Asked Questions regarding the special session on marriage equity:

Q: Why can’t the Legislature address this issue during a regular session?

A: A remedy delayed is a remedy denied. Holding a special session will allow the Legislature to truly focus on this important issue of equality and equity, without having to divert attention to the hundreds of other bills introduced during a regular session.

Q: Will public input be stifled during a special session?

A: The issue has been discussed at length within and without the Legislature. The same constitutional and legal requirements still must be met during a special session, as well as the House and Senate internal rules, both of which require at least one public hearing before a bill is passed. Holding a special session does not allow a bill to sidestep the requirements of the legislative process.

Q: I’ve heard that the Legislature does not have enough votes to call themselves into a special session, but they might have enough votes to pass a bill. Why did the Governor wait until now to call for a special session?

A: Although the Governor has the authority to call a special session, for the special session to be meaningful, the Legislature needs to be engaged and have the votes to pass a bill. The best approach is a collaborative one. The community’s input was taken into consideration, and the Administration has been working together with members of the Legislature and legislative staff to craft a measure that covers all aspects of the issue at hand. This will allow the Legislature to focus on the vote rather than on the process.

Q: Are things being rushed? Shouldn’t a bill like this be vetted more thoroughly?

A: This is an issue that has faced our state for many years, over which various proposals have been considered. In the wake of two recent United States (U.S.) Supreme Court decisions, now is an appropriate time to address this issue. The measure that we are asking the Legislature to consider now is based on a bill that was introduced in the Legislature this past session (S.B. No. 1369). Additionally, the State Attorney General has been working closely with members of the Legislature, as well as a number of staff for several weeks to craft this bill. The next step in the vetting process is for the measure to go through the legislative process, including public hearings. The bill includes several provisions that are currently in the civil unions bill that were already vetted by the Legislature when the civil unions bill was passed.

Q: If a bill was introduced this past session but did not receive a public hearing, what makes things different now?

A: One of the most significant developments was a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued on June 26, 2013, after the legislative session ended, that found a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unlawfully discriminated against married same-sex couples by prohibiting the federal government from recognizing those marriages and by denying federal benefits and protections to those couples.

Q: If a special session is called on Oct. 28, why can’t it wait until the regular session begins in January?

A: Besides the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on DOMA, other rulings and decisions have since been issued. On Aug. 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service ruled that same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. This ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage.

Additionally, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Pentagon have both recently announced that they would treat same-sex marriages equal to opposite-sex marriages for purposes of federal benefits, including health care, housing, family separation allowance, and veteran’s benefits.

Because taxable years align with calendar years, a bill that is enacted and implemented before the end of the year would allow same-sex couples to qualify for the same tax status as opposite-sex couples without further delay.

Q: What if a lawsuit is filed after the bill is enacted?

A: Any piece of legislation is subject to legal scrutiny after a bill becomes law. The best we can do is to do our due diligence and engage in a thorough discussion to build strong legislation that will likely withstand a legal challenge, if one is brought forth. Over the last month, attorneys for the Legislature and the Attorney General’s office have been engaged in a collaborative process of subjecting the draft marriage equity bill to rigorous legal analysis and revision to ensure that the bill is constitutionally sound.

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Statement from Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Hawaii is ready for marriage equity.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, was unconstitutional. In essence, the court’s ruling also enables states across the country to address the right to marry.

I am calling for a special legislative session because we must ensure the civil rights of every citizen are protected. There is no reason to deny the benefits of marriage to any individual. Marriage is a choice that is made by people who want to make a lifelong commitment. This is a right that is as sacred as our right to vote.

I am asking legislators to vote during the special session to allow same-sex couples to be legally married in the state of Hawaii.

This is a civil right, and it can no longer be denied. I’ve held firmly to this belief in my life and political career. One of the lessons learned from the civil rights movement is that to achieve success in the fight for justice, we should not and cannot wait to correct a wrong.

Now is the time to make this right.

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Statement from House Speaker Joseph Souki

House Speaker Joseph Souki issued the following statement on Abercrombie’s announcement that a special session will be convened to discuss marriage equity.

“I am not surprised about today’s announcement by the Governor. Last week Friday when we met with him we had an open and frank discussion on the proposed legislation and it was clear that he intended to act on the issue very quickly.

Now that the decision has been made, it gives the public time to comment on the proposed legislation before the special session convenes on Oct. 28.”

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Statement from Hawaii Republican Party

The Hawaii Republican Party, in the following statement, expressed disappointment today in the governor’s decision to call a special legislative session to discuss a bill that would legalize same sex marriage.

“Although we respect the rule of law, this issue deeply divides our state and should be considered during the regular legislative session. Rather than welcoming an open dialogue, Governor Abercrombie has once again resorted to strong-arm tactics to pressure members of his own party just to advance his polarizing agenda. Our high cost of living, underfunded state pension accounts, and lack of funding for school facilities and transportation are important issues to the people of Hawaii, but the governor has never rushed to fix those issues in a special session. Ultimately, the governor is using this issue to ensure his win in the 2014 Democrat primary election and ignoring the many people of Hawaii who feel that a special session will limit public input and lack transparency.”

For the latest version of the Marriage Equity Bill, visit: governor.hawaii.gov/wp-content…

One Response to “Abercrombie calls special session on marriage equity”

  1. ldfrmc says:

    Three Hawaiian couples asked to marry in December of 1990. It’s taken 23 years – surely enough time for anyone, anywhere to have their say.

    What is sad? That so many excuses were given to prevent couples from marrying. Sadder yet? The GOP response.

    We visited Hawaii several times each year from 1985 to 1998; 13 years. Spending 1-2 weeks in Hawaii, and $3,500 to $5,000 each time. We stopped going after bigotry was put into law in 1998.

    We plan to return in November this year. To renew vows to each other, and friendships with so many natives and other residents of the land of Aloha and Mahalo.

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