your connection to The Boston Globe

Hawaii civil unions plan goes nowhere

HONOLULU --Hawaii lawmakers effectively killed a proposal to create civil unions for gay couples by declining to vote on the legislation.

More than 100 people packed the House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, many waving pink signs reading, "Civil Unions. Equal protection, justice for all." At least 400 people submitted extensive written or oral testimony.

After five hours of testimony, though, the committee declined to vote. Representatives offered little explanation to the public, but it was a sign that the bill lacked enough support to become law.

Civil unions had been suggested as a way for the state to sidestep a controversy over gay marriage, but they proved to be nearly as contentious.

Opponents argued that civil unions were being used as a step toward legalizing gay marriage. Proponents said they want the legal guarantees granted to married couples, such as tax breaks, adoption rights and health benefits.

"This is essentially a re-examination of the same-sex marriage issue except with a different title," said Kelly Rosati, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Catholic Church and executive director for the Hawaii Family Forum.

Gay rights advocates said the law was needed in order to give same-sex couples equal rights as heterosexuals.

"For me, it's very clear cut that it's gender discrimination," said Scott Orton, who is gay. "I would like to take on a partner in the future and have the same rights as a married person."

Hawaii nearly legalized gay marriages more than a decade ago before stiff public opposition came from family advocacy groups, the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church.

A decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court would have allowed same-sex marriages, but a 1998 constitutional amendment and a law defined marriage as between two people of opposite sexes.

Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey already have civil union laws. Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages.