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

2013-OCT:
Same-sex marriage (SSM) Bill SB1 being processed
through the Legislature. Reports in the media.
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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2013-OCT: Processing the bill through the Legislature:

Senator Clayton Hee (D), chair of the Senate Judiciary and Labor committee, has scheduled a hearing of the committee for OCT-28 when members of the public will be able to testify. In order to handle all the people who are expected to give testimonies, each will be limited to 2 minutes. This is not a great deal of time for a person to present their complete thoughts on SSM. However, most adults hold to one of two positions:

  • That marriage inequality should be preserved because many Christians' interpret about 6 "clobber passages" in the Bible as banning same-gender sexual behavior, or

  • That discriminating against same-sex couples because of their gender is as irrational a restriction on their civil liberties like discrimination based on race, skin color, religion, nationality, etc.. Also, denial of marriage to same-sex couples prevents them and their children from accessing any of the 1,138 federal benefits, protections, etc. given to opposite-sex couples.

Perhaps most people who want to testify will be able to confine themselves to a 2 minute speech.

The current version of the bill attempts to strike "a balance between the two competing interests." If the bill is passed as originally written, then loving, committed same-sex couples will be able to marry, while faith groups will be allowed to actively discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them and by refusing to make their facilities available for same-sex marriages.

Assuming that no amendments are proposed to the original text of the bill, committees of the House is expected start examining the bill starting on OCT-31. It will be considered by both the House Judiciary and Finance Committees where the public can testify again.

Representative Bob McDermott (R) plans to vote against the bill, and also expects to introduce a bill of his own. It would authorize a constitutional amendment to be submitted to a public referendum, probably at the mid-term elections in early 2014-NOV. It would alter the state constitution to preserve marriage inequality by restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples -- thus writing discrimination into the Constitution based on gender and sexual orientation. McDermott said that Bill SB1 involves:

"... a major societal change.  Mothers, fathers, truck drivers, clerks at Long's –- those folks should be able to make that decision at the ballot box via a Constitutional amendment.  And then if we fail to convince them, I can live with that – but let the people decide."

Rep. McDermott is one of the leaders of a coalition appropriately named: "Let the People Decide." It is attempting to defeat SB1 and to call for a referendum instead. He said:

"I certainly believe, in all my heart, that if it was put to a vote of the people, they would not vote for it. But that’s not where we’re at. So we need to create the environment where that will happen." 1

In contrast, many LGBT groups, civil libertarians, and liberals feel strongly that civil rights should never be submitted to a popular vote. That path exposes fundamental civil liberties for minorities up to what has been called "the tyranny of the majority." Interracial marriage throughout the entire U.S. was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 when they issued a ruling in the ironically named case Loving v. Virginia. If it had been left to public referendums, interracial marriage probably would not be legalized until 30 to 40 years later.

House Majority leader Scott Saiki noted that 22 Senators and perhaps 29 or 30 Representatives support SB1. This is sufficient support to pass the bill. However, McDermott's constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority of legislator to vote in favor of holding a referendum. That would appear to be unattainable.

Representative Saiki said:

"Those two committees combined represent over one half of the membership of the House, so in other words – more than one half of the House will be sitting on the committee that is hearing that bill. ... Based on my personal experience, I can't think of an issue where we have spent more time on than this issue over the past few months, actually since the last session – for the past year.  We really have spent a lot of time on this issue and we know what the issues are with the public.  We know what the concerns are.  We are working to address those concerns, and we're going to let the discussion play out during the special session." 2

Meanwhile, groups supporting and opposing marriage equality are holding demonstrations. This often takes the form of enthusiastic citizens holding up signs at the side of highways. One sign near Honolulu had an image of a wolf in sheep's clothing. It said that if same-sex marriage became a reality, people who disagree with same-sex marriage will be forced to accept marriage equality. This is an inevitable outcome, and has been experienced in the past:

  • In the 1860s, when African Americans were first allowed to freely marry throughout the U.S.

  • In the early 20th century when laws in a few states prohibiting deaf couples from marrying were repealed.

  • In 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage across the country.

  • In 14 states (so far) and in the District of Columbia which legalized same-sex marriage between 2004 and 2013-OCT.

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2013-OCT: Comments reported by the media:

  • Father Gary Secor, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, and a strong supporter of marriage inequality, said:

    "It would appear that it's going to be difficult for us to prevail, but we're hopeful. The history of the church is that we have not tended to always go with popular or prevailing opinion about things."

  • Rep. Chris Lee, (D) noted that legislators have been bombarded by passionate phone calls coming from both supporters and opponents to SSM.

  • Jim Hochberg, president of Hawaii Family Advocates -- another faith group promoting marriage inequality -- said that coalitions on every Hawai'ian island are pushing for a voter plebiscite. He said:

    "They don't support the concept of same-sex marriage. They don't support the special session. They want to vote on it." 3

  • Dr. Allan Wang, 56, commented about his personal relationship with Tom Humphreys, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

    "It's unfair that our amazing relationship -- which we've been together over 33 years -- our amazing relationship cannot be acknowledged." 4

  • Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) said:

    "I think Hawaii has always celebrated its sense of Aloha for one another. This is a question of equity." 5

  • Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, a group supporting marriage equality said:

    "To win now through the political process in Hawaii would show just how far public opinion in our nation has evolved, and how quickly. It would demonstrate that ... allowing same-sex couples the same right to marry that different-sex couples cherish only provides greater joy and security to more families, and harms no one." 5

  • Jim Hochberg, president of Hawaii Family Advocates, the main group opposing marriage equality, said:

    "They're starting House hearings on Halloween, when many of those opposed will be busy with their families, so we're telling people to bring their kids trick-or-treating at the state capitol." 5

  • James Esseks, of the American Civil Liberties Union -- a pro-civil rights group -- said:

    "This is an issue where we've hit a tipping point. The momentum we have is striking." 5

  • Donald Bentz, who heads Equality Hawaii, hopes that the legislators will pass the bill. He opposes a plebiscite, saying:

    "Whenever you leave the rights of a minority up to the majority, that's a bad day, ... Hawaii has been discussing this issue for 20 years now. These couples have been waiting 20 years."

  • Martha Coakley, is the attorney general of Massachusetts -- which became in 2004 the first U.S. state to have legalized same-sex marriage. She wrote:

    "Nevada and Hawaii marriage laws deny gay men and lesbians the fundamental right to marry, and codify the second-class status — for its own sake — of same-sex couples and their families. Under any standard of constitutional analysis, they cannot survive review."

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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. "Churches, lawmakers meet on gay marriage," West Hawaii Today, 2013-OCT-05, at: http://westhawaiitoday.com/
  2. Mileka Lincoln, "Same-sex marriage bill officially filed, first public hearing scheduled," Hawaii News Now, 2013-OCT-23, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  3. Oskar Garcia, "Hawaii to become next stage in gay marriage debate," Miami Herald, 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.miamiherald.com/
  4. Oskar Garcia, "Hawaii to become next stage in gay marriage debate," NewsNet5, 2013-OCT-25, at: http://www.newsnet5.com/
  5. Malia Mattoch, "Hawaii lawmakers to hold special session to consider gay marriage," Reuters, 2013-OCT-27, at: http://www.reuters.com/

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Copyright ©2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2012-OCT-27
Latest update: 2013-OCT-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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