Hot times in Honolulu, as the legislature is finishing passing marriage equality in a lengthy, highly contentious special session. Tomorrow morning, the House is certain to hand off its moderately amended version to the Senate, which already passed its. The latter will almost surely pass it. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has his pen ready.
There are both reasons and excuses for anti-gay sentiment there. This process stains our fantasies of the loving, peaceful paradise way out there. Several of the print and broadcast media show heavy anti-SSM bias. Moreover, the anti types made much bigger displays in demonstrations and in testifying before both Senate and House committees.
As the very conservative and obviously anti-SSM Hawaii Free Press tabulated it:
The unofficial count found that of 10,749 unique pieces of written testimony submitted to the House, 8,556 (80%) were in opposition and 2,193 (20%) were in support. Of 1,032 oral testifiers, 895 (87%) opposed the measure and 137 (13%) supported it.Both pro- and anti-equality types often used Hawaiian terms. One particularly pointed and poignant here was pono. That is right or righteous. Numerous pro-testifiers said equality was pono, and some on the other side claimed their religion trumped such civil rights, that rejecting the bill was pono.
What we saw and heard there is very familiar to folk here in MA and elsewhere on the mainland. That included:
- Non-stop calls for a plebiscite on these rights
- Vast majority of those testifying citing personal religious feelings
- A few threats that (blah, blah) anyone who supported this would lose in the next election
That was too much for some of those who testified. I recall vividly one young woman at the point of tears decrying the unfairness were a child with no Hawaiian blood to get access to government education and other benefits provided to descendants of the original people, pre-contact. Sure, that's pure racism, but consider how the native Hawaiians were subjugated, their monarchy replaced and on an on. Pride of genetics is a big deal there. I had heard that years ago from friends who grew up in Hawaii.
The bill itself started out straightforward enough. It slightly revised the main marriage statute to broaden it for same-sex couples. It did have the exemptions the legislators knew clerics, church politicians, and the most serious laypeople have needed elsewhere. That would be such as no penalty for legal solemnizers who refuse to officiate at SS weddings, and no penalty for religious institutions that refuse to allow SS weddings or receptions in their religious buildings.
Among the red herrings dragged around on the issue are the baseless contention that ministers and priests will either be forced to perform SS marriages (or face fine or jail or both) and that when this passes, all textbooks will have to include and teach homosexuality in the most positive light. Those and similar ones are sacks of crap, but ones some religious loons can't put down.
Instead in this process, they had most of their craziest demands shot down, while winning a few. For example, they also got the effective date pushed out three weeks.
More substantially, non-profit wording came out of the religious institution exemption. In Hawaii as in MA other most places, public-accommodations laws and regulations do not allow discrimination by a religious organization when they run both a church and say a rental hall open to the public. Now in the form that this law is most likely to pass, religiously affiliated groups can pull their church card and discriminate willy nilly.
What the anti-folk did not get here was the same right for ordinary citizens running small businesses. Think bakers who weep at the idea of decorating queer wedding cakes. Lackaday.
So, Hawaii's version will be a little weaker than ours and most of the other 14 states'. Still, this is a big step.
A huge lesson learned here and elsewhere is that once SS marriages begin, people see that there is nothing but good coming from this slight expansion of equality. Sure, the most dedicated anti-gay types continue to fume or fulminate, but the vast majority go on. They become or return to being, as the local expression goes, hau‘oli — happy.