By Associated Press

Bill would also require state to recognize same-sex partnerships, civil unions, marriages performed in other states

HONOLULU — A majority of state House members support legislation that would legalize civil unions between same-sex couples.

Thirty-two of 51 House members support a bill by House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, D-Aiea-Halawa, that would allow partners who obtain a license to enter into a civil union.

They would have the same rights, benefits and protections that state law affords married opposite-sex couples. The bill also would require the state to recognize domestic partnerships, civil unions or same-sex marriages performed in other states.

"I think it’s just time," said Oshiro.

Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire and California permit civil unions. Massachusetts and Connecticut allow same-sex marriages.

California also allowed same-sex marriages for a short time until the passage of Proposition 8 on last November’s ballot. The measure is being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

Similar measures in the Hawaii Legislature have stalled in recent years, most recently in 2007.

Since 1997, same-sex couples in Hawaii have been able to register with the state Department of Health as "reciprocal beneficiaries," which provides some of the same protections as marriage.

The next year, almost 70 percent of Hawaii voters backed a constitutional amendment that gave legislators the authority to reserve marriage to one man and one woman.

Oshiro’s measure has the support of House Speaker Calvin Say, D-St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise, and Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-Waipahu-Waikele, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

A civil union bill is clearly a compromise for advocates of same-sex marriage, Karamatsu said. "In the past, it was all or nothing. And this year, it has changed a lot, and I think that has helped them. I think they are a little bit more aware of the political process now," he added.

Karamatsu said he believes the bill will be passed by his committee, where past legislation has died.

Gay activists have forged bonds with labor and other organizations to improve their political influence.

With a majority of the House already signaling support for Oshiro’s legislation, the focus could be on the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Brian Taniguchi, D-Moiliili-Manoa, was noncommittal, saying the panel would review the bill.

Opponents said the legislation runs counter to the will of voters as expressed in 1998 on the same-sex measure.

"The people of Hawaii, we decided this issue 10 or 11 years ago," said Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-Kalaeloa-Makakilo. "To me, civil unions is same-sex marriage with a different name."

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