Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hawaii lawmakers consider civil unions - Pacific Business News (Honolulu):

Hawaii lawmakers consider civil unions - Pacific Business News (Honolulu):

The Hawaii Legislature will hear a bill Thursday that would permit gay civil unions.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear House Bill 444 Thursday afternoon at the state Capitol.

Civil-union bills have lacked support at the Legislature in recent years, but HB 444 is backed by a majority of the Democrat-controlled House.

HB 444’s support in the Democrat-controlled Senate is unclear, while Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has not yet stated her position on the measure.

HB 444 would extend the “same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners” in a civil union.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, on Jan. 1, 2010, Hawaii would become the fourth state after New Jersey, Vermont and New Hampshire to allow civil unions.

Hawaii has been at the forefront of the gay-marriage movement in recent years.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that barring same-sex marriage could be a violation of equal protection rights.

But in 1998 Hawaii passed a constitutional amendment that gave the Legislature the authority to reserve marriage to one man and one woman.

Same-sex couples still can register as reciprocal beneficiaries with the Hawaii Department of Health. That status allows inheritance and property rights, the filing of lawsuits for wrongful death, and hospital visitation rights.

Only Massachusetts and Connecticut currently allow same-sex marriage.

California’s legalization of same-sex marriage was nullified in November when voters in the state approved a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples

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