Lawmakers Testify in Same Sex Marriage, as Bill Advances

November 5, 2013, 5:35 PM HST · Updated November 6, 10:36 AM
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Photo by Wendy Osher.

Photo and graphics by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

After an unprecedented five days of public testimony, the state House committees on Judiciary and Finance advanced a bill with amendments, that if approved by the Legislature and signed into law, would legalize same sex marriage in the state.

The bill was adopted in an 18 to 12 vote with Maui Representative Kaniela Ing and Kyle Yamashita voting in support for the bill; and fellow Representatives Justin Woodson and Mele Carroll both voicing opposition to the measure.

The full breakdown of the vote included yes votes from: Representative(s) Luke, Nishimoto, Hashem, Ing, Kobayashi, Lowen, Morikawa, Onishi, Takayama, Yamashita, Rhoads, Belatti, Brower, Coffman, Kawakami, Lee, Wooley, and Thielen. Members voting against the bill included: Representative(s) Johanson, Cullen, Jordan, Tokioka, Woodson, Fukumoto, Ward, Har, Carroll, Ito, Tsuji, and McDermott.

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House committee chairs are recommending advancement of SB1 with three amendments: (1) Adopt laws consistent with Connecticut law; (2) Remove sections on parental rights; and (3) Technical amendments for style and clarity.

“This bill is about redefining marriage, and although I most certainly can see that we need to afford all rights to all people, within reason, redefining the definition of marriage is in fact not an easy thing to do for all of us,” said Rep. Woodson, who voted against the bill’s advancement.

“It comes down to an issue of morality and how we view morality both individually and collectively, and furthermore if that morality changes over time, or should it change, that is really the question before us,” said Woodson.

Woodson, who said the bill is, “not in proper balance,” explained that, “there is great division on this issue obviously, and I think there needs to be a proper balance in which to address it.”

During his testimony, he said that, “The majority of my community respectfully does not agree that homosexuality is moral.”

Fellow Rep. Kaniela Ing, who voted in support of the measure, said, “I know some will write me off as being blasphemous, or twisting God’s word, but I’m trying to be consistent with biblical teaching and not haphazardly choosing which teachings to follow.”

“I am compelled to open up this discussion especially among the younger members of the church, because it is time we as Christians help form a more tolerant and accepting church right here in Hawaiʻi, in the true spirit of Aloha,” said Ing.

He continued saying, “While I cannot vote to deny rights to a group of people, that everyone else of us get to enjoy, I can only support a bill that ensures religious freedoms are protected, and this bill does,” said Ing.

“Hopefully, one day, these religious freedoms that discriminate against the LGBT will no longer be practiced; that we as Christians will learn to be more accepting of a people who did not chose who they are. I am optimistic that within my lifetime, we will see this change within our mainstream churches here in Hawaiʻi,” said Rep. Ing.

In emotional testimony, Representative Mele Carroll, who voted against the bill expressed a sadness of what she called, “an arrogance that I’ve experienced from the LGBT community, which I have always been supportive of, which broke my heart.”

“I supported civil unions. I do support your issues. I got threatened. Shame on you for doing that… but that’s the ugly that came out of this process,” she said.

“Like anything, it’s always easy when you’re the champion, or things go well for you; and it’s always hard when you are defeated. But, it’s even harder when you have to live with one another, especially when families are torn apart that they may agree, or may not agree (on),” said Rep. Carroll.

“I come to you with love, and hope that you understand that my no is not a no to you having benefits, but my no is because of the process. I hope that in the future we can continue that discussion that we all brought forward today, because I also feel that not all has been lost,” she said.

“I feel that if we continue to talk about the things that we fear, or the things that we are concerned with — we have 76 legislators here, we still have a session, we still have opportunity,” said Rep. Carroll.

The three suggested amendments in further detail include:

  • (1) Adopt religious exemption language based on Connecticut law.  Section 572-f will now read, “not withstanding any other law contrary, no religious organization or non-profit institution or organization being operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization, shall be required to provide goods and services or its facilities or grounds for solemnization or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of its religious beliefs and faith.  These entities shall be immune from legal and administrative action for their decision to not provide goods or services or their facilities or grounds for solemnization or celebration of a marriage pursuant to this section.  Note that these provisions will also apply to civil unions, which are currently governed by a different standard;
  • (2) Removal of section 572-c, having to do with parental rights.  The provision has been the topic of many testifiers over the last five days of hearings.  “Under further scrutiny, we believe it is not necessary to the functioning of the bill, so therefore, we are removing it,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads, Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary; and
  • (3) Change the effective date to December 2, 2013, and make technical and conforming amendments.

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.

The hearing began last week Thursday, following a Senate vote on Wednesday in which Senators advanced the measure in a 20-4 vote on third and final reading before transmitting the the measure to the House for consideration.

Upon conclusion of testimony, Rep. Karl Rhoads, chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary thanked the public for coming to testify.

“I know that it can be a very frustrating experience to wait for days and days to get to talk for two minutes, and we realize that. The problem is, scheduling for 5,000 people is a very difficult task, so we’ve done our best to accommodate everyone,” said Rep. Rhoads.

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