By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — Hawaii could begin issuing licenses and performing ceremonies for gay couples on Nov. 18 if a bill passes during a special session that begins next week.
A Senate draft of the bill to be considered starting Monday says couples would be able to obtain licenses and be married the same day.
The draft released on Tuesday presents gay marriage as an equal rights issue, rather than a marriage issue. It changes sections in state law relating to marriage, marriage benefits and divorce.
The Legislature has begun accepting testimony on the bill, which will be introduced Monday morning and immediately referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers and advocacy groups have pressed the issue since the summer, following two U.S. Supreme Court rulings seen as wins for gay marriage proponents. Gov. Neil Abercrombie called the special session after the House and Senate couldn’t muster the two-thirds support needed to call themselves into session.
Public campaigning on both sides of the issue has become more outward as the session approaches, with opponents to gay marriage running television ads and waving signs along highways that push for the issue to be decided in an election, rather than by legislators.
One recent sign along a highway connecting downtown Honolulu with windward Oahu pictured a wolf in sheep’s clothing, arguing that gay marriage would force people who disagree with same-sex couples marrying to go along with it.
Lobbying group Hawaii Family Advocates and the Hawaii Catholic Conference planned a rally at the Capitol on Monday evening to press lawmakers to reject the bill.
Hawaii’s attorney general, David Louie, issued a legal opinion last week that rejected arguments that the state’s constitution would need to be amended to pass a gay marriage bill. Louie said Hawaii lawmakers unquestionably have the authority to consider gay marriage and pass a bill.
Hawaii is one of several states that have seen movement on gay marriage since the Supreme Court rulings, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Oregon.