Japanese American Citizen’s League: Hawaii must end discrimination against gays.

February 4, 2013

The Japanese American Citizens League’s endorsement of marriage equality in Hawaii originally appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, February 3rd.

By Liann Ebesugawaliann

As the nation’s oldest and largest Asian-American civil rights organization, the Japanese American Citizens League is committed to equality and the protection of civil and human rights for all.

The JACL has long supported marriage equality. In 1964, it filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia in which ultimately interracial couples were allowed to marry, effectively striking down the fallacy that love can be legislated.

In 1994, its national council affirmed the position that marriage is a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to all, making it the first non-gay organization to support marriage equality.

Historically, we reflect on the 1942 Executive Order 9066, which stripped 120,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry of their rights and freedoms. This was done by well-meaning people who decided it was perfectly fine to discriminate because it was just one time and only against a small minority. We must never again make an exception to our right to equal protection under the law. Discrimination against any group of people has no place in our society.

The controversy surrounding efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii fails to address a basic point: The loving couples who are denied the right to marry are victims of discrimination.

Notably, in 1993, decades before other states addressed the issue of marriage equality, Hawaii’s Supreme Court led the nation in supporting gay rights by striking down a ban on marriage for same-sex couples because it violated the state Constitution prohibiting discrimination.

The ruling was dealt a setback when a constitutional amendment was enacted in 1998 giving the Legislature the authority to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Now 15 years later, same-sex couples in Hawaii continue to be denied the right to marry, although same-sex marriage has been adopted by nine other states and the District of Columbia.

In the wake of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., we look to his words as revisited by President Barack Obama, who said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. … But here is the thing: It does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice.”

JACL_HI_LogoHawaii is a state defined by its diversity. We as a state also value family and those family members include those who are gay.

The fact that individuals here are denied the right to marry merely because they are gay fundamentally undermines the premise of equality and ultimately robs them of their dignity as citizens.

Yes, there are strident voices that maintain marriage is a tradition and should be protected (“Legislature would be unwise to take up redefinition of marriage at this time,” Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Jan. 27). However, our state’s lawmakers have before them measures that will not change how religion defines marriage. The proposed law allowing same-sex couples to join in marriage specifically protects the rights of clergy, churches and religious organizations that do not perform or recognize same-sex marriages.

Hawaii has a chance this legislative session to do what is right and fair, and to put our collective hand on the arc and bend it in the direction of justice for all.