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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Hawaii

2013: Conservative Christians oppose SSM.
Religious freedom vs. human rights legislation vs
the Ethic of Reciprocity (the Golden Rule).
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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Circa 2013-AUG-25: 100 conservative Christian congregations in Hawaii oppose SSM:

Pastors from 100 congregations signed a declaration to oppose marriage equality and to urge lawmakers to not initiate a special session of the Legislature to consider legalizing SSM in Hawaii.

  • Rev. Norman Nakanishi, Senior Pastor at Grace Bible Pearlside said:

    "It's a matter of colliding convictions it's not so much discrimination as much as it is disagreement. It's not personal, but it's a belief based on the word of God." 10

  • Margaret Scow, The House of Praise Leader at Emmanuel Temple said:

    "God's way is the best way: marriage between one man and one woman."

  • Wayne Cordeiro, Founding Pastor at New Hope Christian Fellowship said:

    "Because this is not against gays it's not bashing any of them. It's the rights ... [that] we as a people of faith want to protect. If it's a racial issue, gender, no big deal. But this is a moral issue that we will have to face. ... We are fighting for the rights of pastors and Christians who have a conscience and we say 'I'm sorry we can't do that.' Will we then be discriminated against because it's not law?"

State Representative Chris Lee, (D) supports marriage equality. He said that the draft marriage bill contains wording to protect congregations and clergy. The bill:

"... basically says that if particular churches don't want to participate in these ceremonies they don't have to and they're not going to be forced to."

Margaret Scow responded, saying:

"That's never the case. Businesses, individuals and churches have all gotten sued for not complying with same sex marriage." 10

Later that week, Governor Abercrombie issued the draft version of the SSM legislation. It provides special and extensive protections for pastors and congregations who want to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them, and by refusing to rent their facilities for wedding receptions, etc.

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How the religious freedom to discriminate conflicts with existing human rights legislation and with the Golden Rule:

Margaret Scow is partially correct: If the bill becomes law without amendments, then businesses and business owners in the wedding industry -- like wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, wedding organizers, for-profit hall renters, etc. -- would still be required to follow Hawaii's human rights legislation. That legislation is similar to that found in many other states. The critical section in the law statutes states that "public accommodations" -- companies that supply services to the general public -- cannot discriminate against customers on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, etc. The Hawaii statute that applies here is:

"§489-3  Discriminatory practices prohibition: Unfair discriminatory practices that deny, or attempt to deny, a person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of a place of public accommodation on the basis of race, sex, including gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, color, religion, ancestry, or disability are prohibited." 9 [Emphasis by us]

That means that a business providing services to the general public cannot refuse those services to a customer on the basis of the latter's sexual orientation, religion, gender, etc. In the District of Columbia and each of the 13 states that have legalized SSM, there have been a small number of businesses run by conservative Christians who have refused to provide their services to same-sex couples. Generally the incident involves a same-sex marriage in which the business owner refuses to participate because of their religious beliefs. However, one incident in New Mexico involved a personal commitment ceremony with no significance either in law or religion. Some retail companies have been prosecuted by state Human Rights Commissions, and found guilty of discrimination. The companies were ordered to pay fines and to not discriminate in the future. Some of the businesses found that their business improved greatly afterwards, as members of the public who wanted to encourage discrimination against the LGBT community preferentially chose these business for wedding functions. Their profits soared.

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Such decisions by private business often place conservative Christians between a rock and a hard place:

  • Their interpretation of certain "clobber passages" in the Bible leads them to the belief that God hates same-gender sexual behavior. This interpretation is generally not shared by more liberal or progressive Christians.

  • The Bible also contains references to the "Golden Rule," whose formal name is the Ethic of Reciprocity. These passages define how humans are expected to behave towards each other. Jesus is recorded as having spoken the following two passages in which he refers to this rule:
    • "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

    • And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

Ethics of Reciprocity are also found in all the other major world religions and many of the philosophical and secular systems of morality.

As applied to cases involving conservative Christians, proprietors being asked to provide their services to the LGBT community without discrimination are forced to choose between:

  • Refusing to sell their products or services to the customer on the basis of their negative interpretation of what the Bible says about homosexuality, and

  • To treat the customer normally by selling their product or service on the basis of the Golden Rule. It implies that the proprietors are to meet the wishes of their customer, by treating the latter as they would wish to be treated in a commercial transaction. i.e. to be served without discrimination.

There is a strengthening movement among religiously conservatives leaders and business proprietors to consider same-sex marriage as a threat towards their religious freedom and liberty. In reality, it is existing human rights legislation that conflicts with their personal religious freedom to discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals.

The term "religious freedom" once referred to one's freedom of personal religious belief, to assembly with like-minded believers, to freely proselytize unbelievers, etc. However, the meaning of "religious freedom" has been changing rapidly. Now it frequently means the freedom to use one's religious beliefs to denigrate, belittle, oppress and discriminate against others.

We have been unable to find a case in the U.S. in which -- as Margaret Scow said "... churches have ... been sued for not complying with same sex marriage." However, we did find a case in Canada that may qualify. It occurred in the year 2003. At the time, SSM was recognized in a few Canadian provinces including British Columbia. It was not until mid-2005 that SSM was universally available in all ten provinces and three territories.

Deborah Ann Chymyshyn and Tracey Smith of Coquitlam, BC, had decided to get married after having completed five years in a committed relationship. They booked a local Knights of Columbus hall for their reception. The building is owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. The Knights are an all-male Roman Catholic service group. The couple signed a contract, paid the deposit, and mailed out invitations to their wedding guests. The Knights of Columbus later found out that theirs was a same-sex wedding, and unilaterally reneged on the contract. The couple lodged a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, stating that they were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Their case was heard on 2005-JAN-24 to 27. 11

The Tribunal Section 8 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code states that:

"A person must not, without bona fide and reasonable justification,
(a) deny to a person or class of persons any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public, or
(b) discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public
because of the … sexual orientation … of that person…."

The Canadian couple won their case. If the same event had occurred a few miles south, across the U.S. - Canadian border in Washington State, -- or in any other state -- it is very doubtful that the couple's case would have been considered. Churches in the U.S. are protected by the First Amendment and are totally free to discriminate against individuals on any basis.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Mileka Lincoln, "Hawai'i lawmakers consider special session for same sex marriage," Hawaii News Now, 2012-JUL-12, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  2. "Hawaii Legislature Won’t Call Special Session to Consider Gay Marriage," Associated Press, 2013-JUL-25, at: http://www.edgeboston.com/
  3. Sumner La Croix et al., "The Impact of Same-Sex Marriage on Hawai‘i’s Economy and Government," 2013-JUL-23, at: http://www.uhero.hawaii.edu
  4. Chad Blair, "Estimate: Special Session to Legalize Gay Marriage Would Cost Just $25,800," Honolulu Civil Beat, 2013-AUG-28, at: http://www.civilbeat.com
  5. "Governor shares draft marriage bill," Governor's web site, 2013-AUG-28, at: http://governor.hawaii.gov/
  6. "A bill for an act relating to marriage," First draft version, 2013-AUG-22, at: http://Governor.hawaii.gov/
  7. Nick Wong, "Hawaii Gay Marriage Effort Moves Forward As Governor Gives Lawmakers Draft Legislation," The Huffington Post, 2013-AUG-29, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  8. Larry Silva, "Honolulu Bishop's Letter on Church's Understanding of Marriage," Diocese of Hawaii, 2013-AUG-26, at: http://www.catholichawaii.org/ This is a PDF file.
  9. "§489-3  Discriminatory practices prohibition," Civil Rights Commission, at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
  10. "Hawaii churches gather to oppose a gay marriage special session," Hawaii News Now, 2013-AUG-26, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  11. "Same-sex wedding cancelled, panel told," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-26, Page A6.
  12. Oskar Garcia, "Hawaii Gov. Calls Special Session on Gay Marriage, Associated Press, 2013-SEP-09. at: http://abcnews.go.com/

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Copyright © 2012 & 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2012-JUL
Latest update: 2013-SEP-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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