HONOLULU – The Hawaii House of Representatives passed a special session bill on Friday night legalizing gay marriage, setting up a final approval by the state Senate before it's sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.
House lawmakers approved the bill after a grueling 12-hour session with breaks, capping more than a week of public testimony and debate that drew passionate crowds both for and against gay marriage.
The measure to allow same-sex couples to wed starting Dec. 2 passed 30-19 with two lawmakers excused. But the drama that unfolded in the hours leading up to the vote included a gay lawmaker voting against the bill, another citing rapper Macklemore in his argument and an opponent to gay marriage promising a second lawsuit to challenge the would-be law.
"If the House can survive this, it can survive anything," House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said after a bruising session that included plenty of verbal sparring, questioning of rules and outbursts from members of the public gathered in the galley.
And it's not quite over yet — the bill needs renewed approval from the Senate because of changes made by two House committees. The Senate passed an earlier version last week.
In a written statement released just after the vote, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he is confident the Senate will address the bill in the same spirit as the House.
"I look forward to a successful conclusion to this major step in affirming everyone's civil rights," said Abercrombie, who was booed and cheered as he watched about an hour of the debate Friday afternoon.
A spokeswoman said he supports the bill as currently drafted.
The Senate is expected to consider the bill Tuesday.
Noisy crowds outside the chamber chanted, sang and waves signs throughout the day, monitoring the lawmakers on closed-circuit televisions and raising their volume whenever the chamber's large glass doors opened. Inside, lawmakers kept maneuvering.
"It was very emotional," House Speaker Joseph Souki said.
Rep. Kaniela Ing quoted Seattle rapper Macklemore twice in voicing his support for gay marriage.
"I agree with Macklemore, it's the same love," Ing said, quoting the platinum-selling artist's hit "Same Love."
Rep. Jo Jordan, who was blasted on social networks and in LGBT circles for not supporting the bill earlier this week, cried as she recounted the past two days. Jordan said she has been embraced by a religious community she thought hated her and shunned by an LGBT community she thought never would.
"It was a rough day yesterday," Jordan said. At one point during her comments, supporters of gay marriage in the galley shouted at her.
Lawmakers shot down four floor amendments by Republicans before lunch, rejecting calls for a task force to study gay marriage, opt-outs for people who object to gay marriage and for children learning about gay people in schools, and a carve-out for religious organizations in the state's public accommodations law.
House leaders sped things up after a break, limiting debate on the final 12 floor amendments to 10 minutes each before calling on leaders to vote. All were rejected, along with 13 floor amendments debated and rejected during second reading on Wednesday.
The moves annoyed lawmakers on both sides of the issue, with gay marriage proponents accusing opponents of trying to stall and opponents accusing the other side of stifling debate.
When told debate would be limited, Republican Rep. Gene Ward of Hawaii Kai protested and asked for the rules to be specified and clarified.
"It's cooking the books," Ward said as Souki declared an immediate recess and lawmakers scrambled to argue about the rules amid cheers and jeers from the gallery.
If fully passed, same-sex marriages would begin Dec. 2 in the state. The bill in its current form exempts clergy and religious organizations from having to solemnize or provide services for same-sex weddings, going further than an exemption passed by the Senate. After their hearing, the House Judiciary and Finance committees also deleted language from the bill that established guidelines for children of gay couples to claim state benefits for Native Hawaiians.
The Senate can pass the bill with no further changes on the floor, or send the bill to a conference committee, where the chambers would iron out any differences. Senators planned to meet Tuesday to make their next move.
Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that the Senate is currently reviewing the House amendments.