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Hawaii Legislators Oppose Gay Marriages, But Solutions Differ

The state House and Senate, each trying to head off the licensing of gay marriages in Hawaii, have staked out positions so far apart that the question will probably be left to the courts.

The House, after a debate that saw half its 51 members rise to speak, on Tuesday night approved a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot defining marriage as existing between a man and a woman.

Earlier in the day, the Senate narrowly approved a bill to create “domestic partnerships” for gay couples. It would give them the same benefits and obligations that married couples have under state law but would not extend benefits covered by federal law, such as joint tax filing.

The debate is being closely watched by other states, some of which are pushing legislation against recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Lawmakers find themselves in the election-year controversy thanks to a 1993 decision by the state Supreme Court.

Ruling on a 1991 lawsuit filed by three gay couples, the court said denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples amounts to illegal discrimination unless the state can show it has a compelling interest to do so.

That question goes back before a lower court on Aug. 1, unless the lawmakers come up with a compromise first. The legislative session ends April 29.

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