Hawaii Approves Same-Sex Marriage

     HONOLULU (CN) - Hawaii will become the 15th state to recognize same-sex marriage, as the state Senate approved the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act on Tuesday and the governor is scheduled to sign it into law today.
     The state Senate approved the bill by 19-4 vote, four days after the state House approved it 30-19.
     Senate Bill 1 went through 28 revisions and more than 50 hours of public testimony. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, called a special session in September specifically to address the issue.
     The law takes effect Dec. 2. It "(r)ecognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex [and] (e)xtends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive."
     Same-sex marriage annulments and divorces will be handled in the same Family Circuit Court as opposite-sex marriages.
     Abercrombie last year sued Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy, who opposed same-sex marriage.
     Abercrombie indicated in his lawsuit that he would not defend a 1998 amendment to the Hawaii Constitution banning gay marriage. Two-thirds of Hawaii voters voted then to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.
     Oahu First Circuit Court Judge Karl K. Sakamoto last week denied a request from state Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican, for declaratory judgment affirming the 1998 amendment.
     During last week's House and Senate hearings, crowds of opponents and supporters of the new law had to be contained and controlled by police because of threats.
     Religious organizations that sought exemptions from the law were granted a conditional exemption from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies.
     Under the new law, churches will not be subject to fines or injunctions "provided that the religious organization does not make its facilities or grounds available to the general public for solemnization of any marriage celebration for a profit."
     Same-sex couples can begin submitting marriage license applications with the Hawaii Department of Health in December.