HONOLULU — Hawaii House lawmakers were poised to take their final vote Friday on a bill to legalize gay marriage on the islands, with strong chances the measure will pass and move to the Senate for its second approval.
House members returned to the floor Friday morning for their final debate after a five-day public committee hearing and an 11-hour floor session earlier this week.
The debate — expected to go into the night — was playing out amid noisy crowds outside the chamber and maneuvering inside from lawmakers for and against the bill.
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 filed to 10 minutes each before calling on leaders to vote.
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 House Speaker Joseph Souki declared an immediate recess and lawmakers scrambled to argue about the rules amid cheers and jeers from the gallery.
Rep. Kaniela Ing criticized other lawmakers for introducing lengthy amendments in an attempt to derail the bill.
"It's calling a spade a spade. To me, that's disingenuous. These are delay tactics," Ing said.
Ing's comments drew sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats opposed to gay marriage, leading to another recess to cool things down and the Maui Democrat asking to strike his comments when the session resumed.
"I'm just tired of the games," Ing said on Twitter.
The bill is likely to pass, as indicated by earlier votes.
Crowds both for and against same-sex marriage gathered outside the Capitol hours before the floor session, chanting, singing songs and waving signs throughout the day. Security implemented tighter crowd control after arguments earlier this week and noise that disrupted lawmakers debating.
"It's a shame that they think they will be doing the right thing, but I think it's sinful," said 54-year-old Frank Kauhi of Honolulu, holding a sign that said "Remember next November," a reference to the 2014 elections.
Across the Capitol rotunda, Episcopal Rev. Walter Brownridge led supporters of same-sex marriage in a prayer.
"May our Legislature show the wisdom to be compassionate and not fearful," said Brownridge, of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu.
If 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 will have to pass the bill a second time because of the House changes. It 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.
Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the primary sponsor of the bill, said it's too early to tell whether a conference committee would be necessary. He said he did not consider the House changes made in committee significant.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Attorney General David Louie have urged both chambers to pass the bill in its current form. Louie says it's constitutional.
Abercrombie watched the proceedings for about an hour Friday afternoon, drawing both cheers and boos from the crowd as he walked in and was later introduced.
"You out of line, bro," one opponent of gay marriage shouted at Abercrombie, before being escorted from the chamber.
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .
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