Friday, November 01, 2013

Aloha Equality, 20 Years Late

Yes, yes, Hawaii should have been the first state in our nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Now they are finally finishing the equality task. Obvious has not been simple.

In 1991, the state Supreme Court ruled in Baehr v. Lewin that denying same-sex couples marriage was unconstitutional discrimination. Well, they weren't ready to pioneer. The case bounced through appeals while the anti-gay forces gathered in a panic and led to a one-man/one-woman amendment forbidding equality in 1998.

Eventually, they got to a civil-unions law but no farther. Until this the past two weeks...

As I write this, 5,181 locals have signed up for their two minutes each to testify, in all senses of the term, before a House committee considering whether to concur with the Senate. The latter body has already passed SB 1 in special session to legalize SSM by 20 to 4. The tally in the House is that there will be enough votes to pass it. Progressive Gov. Neil Abercrombie has his pen ready. In fact, it was his call for the special session.

Baseless Fears

The basis of the Senate version was the bill never acted on during the regular session, its draft is here. Those accustomed to the per-state fights will recognize the skeleton. The actual change to law is plain — homosexual couples will have the same access to marriage as different-sex ones. Then there is the placating overlay, iterating in excruciating detail that:
  • solemnizers (a.k.a. marriage officiants) don't have to perform SS weddings if they don't want to
  • religious organizations don't have to permit same-sex weddings in their facilities if they don't want to
Such protections, already on top of US and Hawaiian constitutional religious protections are never, ever enough for the anti-gay sorts. Without any reason or proof whatsoever, they go on and on about how they are just positive that permitting SSM in their state will force their ministers to consecrate queer marriages. That is a a really tiresome rap and one the Senate in its 1-minute speaker slots and now the House in its 2-minute ones heard repeatedly.

Having spent parts of my life in West Virginia and South Carolina, the stupid and bigoted talk coming out of Oahu in the last few days is not what I associate with the island paradise, rather rural backwoods hicks. It's the same old dreck we heard here in MA a decade ago. Hawaiians have fair less excuse though, being able to look at many states with successful SSM implementations, all where religious freedoms are more than observed and only good accrues to the citizens.

The wrinkle comes with its mandatory irony as well. The anti-forces are of course screaming, "Let the people vote!" That's the call when either representative democracy (a.k.a., the legislature) and the courts mandate equality. Suddenly, the nasties demand a plebiscite on other folks' civil rights. Honk. Wrong.

Special Rights

The other part of the humor is that they want special rights (what they falsely accuse homosexual couples of wanting). In this case, they are calling for amendments to the bill to legalize discrimination that is presently against the law in Hawaii. Specifically, they want a conscience clause exempting any private, for-profit, business of public accommodation. That would be if you run say a bakery or photography biz or rent your hall to the public, you'd get the religious exemption if you don't like them homos. It's like suddenly making every business into a church and making every for-profit side business of a church into a religious institution.

Of course that would be a Pyrrhic victory if passed. If you want to be a for-profit biz, you have to obey federal and state public-accommodation statutes and regulations, including non-discrimination ones. A challenge would wipe those away pretty quickly if the House was dumb enough to include them and the Senate acquiesced to the blackmail just to pass the larger bill.

However, the anti-gay types are not going to get their plebiscite and if they can delay passage by a few days by loading BS amendments onto the bill, they'll fee smug and briefly righteous.

Back in the capitol in Honolulu, the House committee has amazing patience. Why they would listen to the iterative, repetitive snippets pro and con SSM almost eludes me. I have to keep in mind that they are letting the nasties vent and rant. Loading this vitriol upfront is a great prophylaxis. Both chambers have also been open-minded in letting the dumbest of their legislators carry on.

As it is, the several thousand testifiers could go on until Tuesday or even Friday. This is truly from MacBeth — sound and fury signifying nothing. Yet, the drama plays on and on, hour upon hour and day upon day.

In the end, apparently, Hawaii will finally manifest its two-decade-old promise of marriage equality to match its constitution, and now to bring up the wagon of states embracing SSM. They are not quite what Le Tour riders call la lantern rouge, the slowest rider, in an allusion to the red lantern hung on the back of a train caboose. They sure have lost their shot at leading though.

Pic note: Thanks to Jeff Polston's site for the lantern image.

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