By Derrick DePledge
Living up to a promise to hear everyone who wants to speak on marriage equality, the state House on Thursday embarked on a marathon hearing where thousands of people would each be given a two-minute platform to offer their opinions.
The House Judiciary Committee and the House Finance Committee took testimony late into the evening and House leaders made a commitment to extend the hearing into Friday and the weekend if necessary to hear all who had signed up to speak by midnight.
*Update: At midnight, after hearing testimony for 14 hours, Rep. Karl Rhoads, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the committees would continue to hear testimony past midnight.
Rep. Gene Ward loudly complained that lawmakers should recess until later Friday morning, drawing cheers from an audience dominated by opponents of gay marriage. Some supporters of marriage equality shouted at Ward that it was actually Friday now that midnight had passed.
Rep. Sylvia Luke, the chairmwoman of the House Finance Committee, explained to Ward that the committees wanted to hear from many of the people who had brought families to the Capitol and had been waiting for much of the day to speak.
*Update II: After a recess, Rhoads changed course and announced that the hearing would recess until 8:30 a.m. The chairman cited a news release that had stated that the House would end testimony at midnight and pick up again "tomorrow."
Rhoads and Luke reaffirmed their commitment to allow all of the 5,181 people who had signed up by the midnight deadline to testify. Rhoads said that as committee chairman last session he allowed two minutes for anyone who wanted to testify on bills.
Asked about a coordinated move by opponents of the bill to get people down to the Capitol to sign up -- which brought a few hundred people to the Capitol just before midnight in an effort to extend the hearing longer -- Rhoads told reporters: "It's an opportunity for people to make their opinions known. And I don't regret -- I think it's a positive thing that we are willing to spend the time necessary to hear what everybody has to say."
While House leaders made the promise to avoid claims that a marriage equality bill is being rushed in special session, it also has the practical effect of playing into the strategy of opponents of gay marriage who have said they want to slow the process down.
Any delay provides more time for opponents to pressure House lawmakers to either kill the bill or expand a religious exemption so broadly that it undermines support in the state Senate.
"We recognize that this issue is one of the most significant issues that we’ve dealt with in a long time,” said House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Downtown-Kakaako-McCully). “And we know that the public has an opinion on this. It’s our responsibility to hear from the public.”
From Rep. Richard Fale, via Twitter and Facebook:
Calling anyone near the Capitol, PLEASE COME DOWN BEFORE MIDNIGHT TO TESTIFY! If we don't have people speaking constantly through midnight, we won't be able to continue tomorrow and testimony will be over. Still enough time to come down from North Shore.
From Rep. Beth Fukumoto, via Twitter:
Hse Leaders may cut off testimony despite public expectation of a 2nd day. Come back to the Capitol! #iwanttransparency #HINews