The push for gay marriage in Hawaii is revving up advocates on both sides as lawmakers prepare for a special session to address the issue next month.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, on Tuesday asked lawmakers to meet Oct. 28. He recently issued an 18-page draft of a bill that would allow marriage licenses to be issued later this year to same-sex couples.
The move is the latest sign that the primary front in the battle over same-sex marriage has shifted to the states following the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on the question this summer.
Gay rights groups like Equality Hawaii and Hawaii United for Marriage cheered the news of the special session, as passage of the bill could mean gay marriages could start as early as Nov. 18.
But opponents promise a fierce fight.
Catholic Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu sent an urgent appeal to parishioners to speak to lawmakers, while members of Hawaii Family Forum, Hawaii Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America in Hawaii are rallying their supporters, too.
Barbara Ferraro, the leader of Concerned Women for America in Hawaii, said opponents would do everything they could — including fly to every island with a hearing on the bill — to make sure their voices are heard.
The Hawaii Legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the state Senate is seen as strongly pro-gay marriage.
However, the state House has been more equally divided on the issue and 26 votes are needed from the 51-member chamber.
The national push for gay marriage began in Hawaii in 1990 when three same-sex couples asked county clerks for marriage licenses and were refused. They sued the state for discrimination based on gender. In 1998, Hawaii voters blocked courts from enacting gay marriage by passing an amendment saying only lawmakers could legalize gay marriage.
That battle spread across America, and today, 13 states and the District of Columbia now permit gay marriage, while the high court struck down a law banning the federal government from recognizing gay unions.
Hawaii is now one of four states — with New Jersey, Illinois and Oregon — primed to adopt gay nuptials, according to Freedom to Marry, a prominent advocacy group for gay marriage.
In New Jersey and Illinois, lawmakers are considering action on gay marriage bills this fall. In addition, judges in the two states are expected to issue rulings on gay marriage in the next few weeks.
Traditional-values groups and many religious leaders have steadfastly opposed gay marriage as a politically driven assault on religious freedom and the nation's Judeo-Christian marriage and family culture. Already, small-business owners in states with gay-marriage laws are seeing their religious freedoms overrun, says Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America.
"Almost weekly, if not daily, we get updates of small businesses that are coming under fire in these states," said Mrs. Nance, noting that an Oregon bakery owned by a Christian couple was harassed and is now being investigated for declining to bake for a gay ceremony.
The push for gay marriage hasn't been smooth sailing everywhere. In Arizona, a petition drive to overturn that state's voter-passed marriage amendment and permit gay marriage was recently suspended.
Equal Marriage Arizona was planning to put a ballot measure before voters, asking to change the state constitution to say marriage was between "two persons" instead of "man and woman." A second sentence would have provided protections to religious institutions. But the Arizona ballot campaign was suspended due to timing and organization, campaign leader Warren Meyer said. National gay rights leaders "don't want a failure in 2014 to hurt momentum," he told Capitol Media Services.
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