By Wendy Osher
The Senate voted today 20 to 4 to pass a bill on third and final reading to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaiʻi.
The measure will now be transmitted to the House for review.
Under the bill, marriages between individuals of the same gender would be recognized in the state, and same-sex couples would be extended the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities that married couples of the opposite-sex are presently entitled to.
All three Maui Senators voted in favor of the measure.
During testimony today Maui Senator Gil Keith-Agaran said, “In three weeks, I will be celebrating my eighth anniversary. My friends who know me, obviously (know) my marriage is a work in progress; and I don’t claim to be an expert in marriage.”
“But,” he said, “I believe I have enough faith and sober humility to understand that the success or failures in my marriage depend more on the work and love I pour into that committed relationship, than whether or not we as a government, whether we as a legislature, and whether we as a community exclude or welcome other Hawaiʻi citizens from entering into marriage. I vote aye,” said Senator Keith-Agaran.
Fellow Senator Roz Baker of Maui also voted in support of the measure, pointing towards her childhood in the Deep South. “For the entire 12 years of my elementary, middle school, and high school years, I did not go to school with one black child, although there were plenty of black children in my town.”
“I’ve seen up close and personal the ugly face of discrimination, and with every minority group, you simply don’t put their right on the ballot for a popular vote, because like the decision to get rid of so called separate but equal doctrine, if we put that on the ballot, would you think that those black schools would have gone out of existence in the state of Texas?”
“We wouldn’t have had any of the advancements in equal rights if they had been put up to a popular vote,” said Baker. “Minorities don’t ever get their rights that way. That to me is one of the fundamental reasons that we need to continue to move Senate Bill 1 forward. It is about equality of rights under the law,” said Baker.
“I firmly believe that equal rights delayed are equal rights denied. Perhaps the urgency was brought on by the Supreme Court Action on the defense of marriage; but even if it hadn’t come from that, I still think this is an action we should have taken, and it’s appropriate to do it now,” said Baker.
Maui Senator J. Kalani English also testified in support of the measure saying, “I’d like to enter into the record today, the editorial that was in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this morning by Hinaleimoana Wong Kalu entitled Hawaiian Values Differ from Western Traditions.”
“Just to summarize, what Hina talks about is basically saying you cannot merge the idea of Hawaiian values and Western… It lays out some of the traditional Hawaiian marriages—aikāne, punalua, and other types of marriages. This is our traditional Hawaiian marriages. So when people say, let’s defend traditional marriage—yes of course—I defend traditional Hawaiian marriages. So I’d like to eneter this into the record so that we have a clear understanding,” said English.
Among those who vote against the measure were: Senator Sam Slom (R); Mike Gabbard (D); Donna Mercado Kim (D); and Ronald Kouchi (D) of Kauaʻi. One member, Glenn Wakai, was excused.
“This bill will not advance life, liberty, or happiness in this state,” said Senator Slom, who provided about 20 minutes of testimony. “This bill will not improve our economic conditions,” he said.
“At last count, 14 states in fact have legalized some sort of same-sex marriage, which leaves—in my public school math—36 states that have not.”
“This bill is an attack on religious freedom and the First Amendment,” said Sen. Slom. “Make no mistake about it. The so-called protections in this bill, as written now, will not protect religious organizations and their facilities. This bill gives additional legal causes of action, and people will use them. They will continue to sue,” said Sen. Slom.
Senator Clayton Hee, Chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor defended the bill saying, “Language has been included that preserves the sincerely held religious beliefs of religious organizations.”
He said the Senate’s measure takes into account the concerns expressed by both the religious community and same-sex advocates and recognizes freedom of religion by:
“Exempting a religious organization from liability for refusing to make its facilities or grounds available for solemnization of any marriage celebration if the religious organization does not make its facilities or grounds available to the public for solemnization of any marriage celebration for a profit; and specifying examples of the types of religious organization activities that do not constitute ‘for a profit.’”
“We all saw the thousands of people who showed up on Monday to lend their voices on both sides of the issue, but we unfortunately didn’t give the same opportunity to people on the Neighbor Islands,” said Sen. Gabbard who was among those who voted against the measure. “What about that farmer in Kaunakakai who couldn’t afford the airfare to come to Oahu to testify,” he said.
“I know some people have said we have talked this issue to death and we’ve already heard all of the arguments. That may very well be, but the real issue here is—have we really done all that we can to give the opportunity for people’s voices to be heard. Afterall, isn’t that what the democratic process is all about,” he said.
“This is even more reason that we should heed the advice of the people who are urging us to let the people decide by putting this back on the ballot in 2014 as a constitutional amendment,” said Gabbard. “The fact is there are many valid concerns that opponents of this bill have, and it’s a mistake to ram this through without taking the time to really address them,” he said.
“What I heard during our marathon hearing on Monday was that people are very worried about protection of religious freedom and how also this will impact our children’s education,” said Gabbard.
“Although I acknowledge the assurances of the Senators from Kailua and Waipahu about opt-out provisions in DOE policy, for our tax-payer funded public schools, people should not have to worry about their kids being taught that homosexual relations are normal and natural if that isn’t what they believe.”
The final vote came after a initial vote on Monday night by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor. The initial passage advanced the bill with five voting in favor including: Senators Hee, Shimabukuro, Galuteria, Ihara, Solomon; and two voting no including Gabbard and Slom.
The House Judiciary and Finance committees have already scheduled a hearing on the measure set to begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31. and end at midnight. At that time if there are people who signed up to testify still waiting to speak, the hearing will be continued on Friday, November 1 at a time to be determined, officials said.
Due to the anticipated high volume of testifiers, the Judiciary and Finance Committees will assign registration numbers to people who submit testimony and wish to testify in-person.
According to information released by the House, those who submit testimony online and wish to testify at the hearing will receive an email with their registration number; and those who submit their testimony in person will be assigned a number at that time.
“The numbering system is being implemented to more efficiently assist the flow of people and their testimony during the hearing. It will also allow testifiers to know where they are on the testimony list and plan their presence accordingly,” the announcement said.
For more information on how to submit testimony for the upcoming hearing, details are provided at the following link.
Updates from the special session and the progress of other bills introduced are available at the following link.