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Topics In the News
Hawaii Achieves Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/09/13
Last updated on: 11/14/13
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Supporters celebrate the decision.

After almost twelve hours of debate on November 8, 2013, Hawaii's House of Representatives passed a marriage equality bill by a vote of 30 to 19, with 2 absences. Because the House amended a bill originally passed by the Senate, it then returned to the Senate for a reconciliation vote, which took place on November 12, when it was passed on a 19-4 vote. It was signed into law by Governor Neal Abercrombie on November 13. Same-sex marriages will begin in early December.

The vote in the House assured that Hawaii will become the 16th state in the nation to achieve marriage equality.

Despite the comfortable margins of victory in both the House and the Senate, however, the marriage bill was bitterly contested, especially in the Hourse. Anti-gay churches and organizations bussed in demonstrators to protest the bill and to spread lies and fear about its consequences. Moreover, the bipartisan opposition in the legislature used every delaying tactic at its disposal to attempt to derail or at least slow the march toward equal rights for glbtq citizens.

More than 20 amendments, some nearly identical to ones that had previously been defeated, were offered by the opponents. Most of them were attempts to expand the religious exemptions in the bill and to authorize discrimination against same-sex couples by business owners and others who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Although polls show that a majority of Hawaiians support same-sex marriage, and Governor Abercrombie campaigned on the issue, the opponents' mantra was "Let the people vote," as they called for a referendum on the issue.

Many of the legislators simply lied as they stoked fears and misrepresented the experience in other states that have permitted same-sex marriage. Moreover, some also distorted Hawaiian history, as they attempted to portray homosexuality as something imported from the mainland, notably omitting the fact that what actually was imposed on native Hawaiians by colonists in the nineteenth century was not homosexuality (which was widely practiced and accepted) but a fundamentalist version of Christianity that deems homosexuality immoral.

They also stoked fears by implying that the exposure of "keiki" (children) to same-sex marriage would have devastating consequences and that schools would be required to teach the mechanics of sex as a result of same-sex marriage.

At times the debate was more theological than political as legislators on both sides evoked religion to justify their positions.

At one point, Representative Tom Brower told his colleagues, "I urge Christians to be more concerned with the actions of people calling themselves 'Christians' than with gay people calling themselves 'married.'"

Representative Chris Lee, after comparing marriage equality to women's suffrage, racial equality, and interracial marriage, said, "I choose to err on the side of fairness, on the side of freedom, on the side of aloha, on the side of love."

In the most moving speech of the debate, freshman Representative Kaniela Ing, after evoking the stories of Matthew Shepard, and of others who have struggled under inequality, asked, "How many more gay people must God create until we realize he wants them here?"

Openly lesbian Representative Jo Jordan achieved the dubious distinction of being the first openly-gay elected official to vote against marriage equality. In an incoherent and completely self-referential speech, she said members of the faith community were nice to her after she voted against the marriage bill at second reading, while members of the glbtq community said rude things about her.

Following the vote, Governor Abercrombie issued a statement commending the House of Representatives "for taking this historic vote to move justice and equality forward. After more than 50 hours of public testimony from thousands of testifiers on both sides of the issue, evaluating dozens of amendments, and deliberating procedures through hours of floor debates, the House passed this significant bill, which directly creates a balance between marriage equity for same-sex couples and protects our First Amendment freedoms for religious organizations."

In a moving ceremony at the Hawai'i Convention Center's Liliu Theater, Governor Abercrombie signed the bill into law. He told dozens of invited guests and state lawmakers that the marriage equality bill was the "epitome of the First Amendment in action."

As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported, on November 14 Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto blocked an attempt by opponents of same-sex marriage to halt the issuance of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. He refused to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples beginning on December 2.

Opponents argued that the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 gave the legislature only the power to reserve marriage to heterosexual couples. However, Judge Sakamoto rejected that reading of the amendment, and ruled that the legislature has the inherent authority to define marriage.

"I'm very pleased with the court's ruling," state Attorney General David Louie told reporters. "I think the court clearly said that SB1 is constitutional. SB1 can go forward. The Legislature had the power to enact SB1 under its general powers as a Legislature."

Representative Chris Lee's powerful speech is below.

Below is a video of Representative Kaniela Ing's moving speech.

As the video below documents, when the vote was finally announced, the supporters of marriage equality, including many who had spent most of the day rallying at the capitol, burst into the song "Hawai'i Aloha."

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