By Derrick DePledge
State House Speaker Joseph Souki said Wednesday that a majority of House lawmakers support gay marriage, but he wants to make certain the vote count is firm before informing Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
The governor is waiting for word from the House before deciding whether to call a special session on gay marriage. The state Senate has the votes for a gay marriage bill.
Several House sources say that 28 House lawmakers support gay marriage -- two more than the 26 needed to pass a bill in the 51-member chamber -- but Souki described the count as “soft.” House leaders, who met privately on Wednesday, want a cushion of at least a few more votes before signing off on a special session.
“We had a nice meeting today. Good, strong discussion on both sides. We have a diverse group, people feel strongly for and others strongly against,” Souki (D, Waihee-Waiehu-Wailuku) said. “As was said before, the soft numbers are there. I just got to make sure it’s tightened up.”
House Democrats will meet privately in caucus next Wednesday to discuss gay marriage. Souki’s staff and House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully) are expected to do vote counts leading up to the caucus.
Souki said he is not sure the House will have an answer for the governor after the caucus, or whether House leaders will need more time. “I want firm numbers,” he said.
Others, however, say privately that the House should have the information for the governor by next week.
Gay rights advocates had hoped for a special session in September, but Souki suggested that it might be October. The longer lawmakers take to decide, the temptation among some will be to wait until the next regular session opens in January to take up the issue.
In a memo to Souki on Wednesday, Rep. Denny Coffman (D, Naalehu-Captain Cook-Keauhou), who supports marriage equality, asked the speaker to form a special committee to analyze a gay marriage bill and to fast track legislation during the regular session. He warned that a special session “runs the risk of overlooked details in the language, rushed decision-making and ultimately, poor policy.”
The worry, House sources say, is that Coffman’s request could lead other supporters to have second thoughts about a special session. Souki has said that lawmakers who say they are undecided or are otherwise noncommittal will be listed as “no” votes for purposes of the vote count.