By Derrick DePledge
An internal vote count in the state Senate shows that roughly 18 senators would vote for gay marriage, sources say.
Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria confirmed the count, which was conducted after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits.
House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said he is about two-thirds' of the way through his count in the House, where support for gay marriage is not as strong.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie is waiting to hear from House and Senate leadership on whether he should call a special session for lawmakers to consider a gay marriage bill. Otherwise, lawmakers would take up the issue when the next session opens in January.
Sources have said they doubt the House and Senate would initiate a special session, which would require two-thirds' support in each chamber, and would instead indicate to the governor that there are enough votes for gay marriage for the governor to call lawmakers back to the Capitol.
Sources say that some of the issues complicating a decision over a special session are the pending federal legal challenge by gay couples to the state's marriage law, complaints filed with the Democratic Party of Hawaii against 11 state House and Senate Democrats who proposed a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage, and Senate President Donna Mercado Kim's history of opposing gay marriage. Kim has been traveling since shortly after the Supreme Court ruling.
Senators may return in special session within the next month to consider state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald's appointment of James Ashford as a district court judge on Oahu.
If the Senate does return on the judicial nomination, gay rights activists will likely use the move as proof that senators are available for a special session this summer on gay marriage and put pressure on the House as well.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have privately conceded that a gay marriage vote is unavoidable and is now a matter of timing. Hawaii already allows gay and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights and benefits of marriage under state law.