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Hawaii Set To Take Up Gay Marriage In Special Session Monday

The next state to legalize same-sex marriage may be Hawaii, where the state's Legislature will begin a special session on the issue Monday. The governor called the session so that lawmakers could consider the Marriage Equality Act, which would allow same-sex couples to wed.

NPR's Nathan Rott reports for our Newscast unit:

"The gay marriage debate is nothing new to Hawaii. In 1990, gay couples who applied for a marriage license there helped start the national debate that resulted in the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.

"Proponents for same-sex marriage, including Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, are trying to ride national momentum, pushing for legislation that would make Hawaii the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. They argue that the bill extends the state's Aloha spirit of equality and would spur tourism.

"Opponents of the bill have organized protests, saying that Hawaiian voters should decide the issue, not the state's lawmakers."

Gay marriage was in a legal gray area in Hawaii after 1993, when the state's supreme court ruled in favor of the unions. But a constitutional amendment that was adopted five years later took jurisdiction from the courts and gave it to the Legislature, which then banned same-sex marriages.

In Honolulu, this weekend has been marked by rallies organized by groups on both sides of the issue, Hawaii News Now reports. More rallies will take place Monday.

On Sunday, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii voted to support the bill — "the largest denomination to announce its support of an issue that has divided people of faith," The Honolulu Star Advertiser says.

If it is approved, the measure would take effect on Nov. 18. A public hearing on the matter will be part of the special session Monday, according to the Hawaii Legislature's website.

In addition to the 14 states where same-sex marriage is already legal, the District of Columbia has also recognized the marriages. As a recent map by The Washington Post shows, 35 states have enacted laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

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