“End the fuss, legislators, and make gay people equal”

January 30, 2013

By David Shapiro

This article originally appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Jan 30,2013

It’s time for Hawaii to end our 20-year battle over same-sex marriage and join the tide of history that is moving the United States toward marriage equality.

The national debate was ignited by a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage couldn’t be denied without a “compelling state interest” for doing so.

Hawaii voters were uncomfortable with the abrupt change and passed a 1998 constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples, which lawmakers did.

But the blaze lit here spread across the nation, and 20 years later marriage equality appears to be nearing critical mass.

Eleven states now give some measure of recognition to same-sex marriage, and nearly as many— including Hawaii — allow civil unions that grant gay couples the legal rights of marriage.

President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage in his campaign with no apparent hit at the polls, then made the first call for marriage equality in an inaugural address.

Gay people are no longer banned in the military, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act faces challenges in court.

Public opinion is shifting as young people who are comfortable with same-sex marriage reach voting age.

The 70 percent in Hawaii who opposed marriage equality in 1998 are down to 50 percent in recent polls and will keep dropping as generations change.

After 20 years of battling, the facts and arguments are all on the table and ready to be settled by the Legislature this session.

Lawmakers have the constitutional right to decide without taking the issue back to voters, they appear to have the votes despite the opposition of some leaders and they have a governor who will concur.

All they need is the resolve to redirect our state’s energy from fighting to reconciliation.

I say this as one who shared the misgivings of the 1990s about upending traditional marriage.

But over the years I kept returning to the question raised by Hawaii’s Supreme Court: What is the compelling state interest in denying equality?

No such interest has ever convincingly been presented.

In states that permit gay marriage or civil unions, direpredictions of societal and economic ruin haven’t come to pass.

Opposition at this point boils down to tradition and the religious belief of some that same-sex marriage is immoral.

Traditions change with the times, and the religious believers remain free to practice their beliefs and not get married to partners of the same sex.

They shouldn’t be free, however, to dictate the behavior of others who don’t share their beliefs on a personal matter that is of no harm to anybody else.

If we end 20 years of bitterness and pursue true reconciliation, 20 years from now we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.