Legislature should grant full marriage equality

January 30, 2013

By Lance Bateman

This piece originally appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on January 30,2013 

In the marriage equality debate, I have yet to hear from anyone how the marriage that my late husband Bill Woods (the original organizer of the challenge in 1991) and I had in Canada — which was recognized also in most of Europe and many other countries — affected or “redefined” their marriage.

Or, for that matter, how any same-sex marriage has challenged anyone else’s marriage. In fact, in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to authorize full equality of marriage, the divorce rate has dropped in the years since.

So it’s interesting that James Hochberg, an old crony of state Sen. Mike Gabbard, phrases his objections in terms of “redefining marriage” (“Legislature would be unwise to take up redefinition of marriage at this time,” Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Jan. 27).

One specific objection that’s been raised against marriage equality relates to children. This neglects the fact that when the initial case was returned to the lower courts in Hawaii requiring a high level of scrutiny for the state to deny marriage licenses to its citizens regardless of sex, the state tried to demonstrate an impact on children.

However, by the end of the trial, which the state lost, even the state’s experts were admitting that same-sex parents (about 30 percent have children — by choice, not by accident) do at least as good a job of raising the children as other parents.

Schools already must address harassment and bullying, including that which may occur over sexual orientation, or over the kind of family of which children are a part, including those whose parents have a civil union. No change to this is needed with full marriage equality.

It was when the then-chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court addressed the Legislature and told them that unless the Hawaii Constitution was amended, we would have same-sex marriage, that the amendment issue started. The Legislature worded the amendment to “allow the Legislature to define marriage in the State of Hawaii.”

A bill that had been previously passed by the Legislature to define it as one man and one woman was then allowed by the courts to take effect.

The Constitution was not changed to limit marriage. (The initial suit was always about sex discrimination, not sexual orientation. Sex discrimination is not allowed by the Hawaii Constitution).

As we saw in 1997-98, a constitutional amendment fight is a long, drawn-out , expensive and very divisive affair. And I’m appalled that opponents of full marriage equality continue to refer to a vote that took place over 14 years ago, ignoring the changes in public opinion as shown in polls and the endorsement of full marriage equality by our congressional delegation, the governor, the president and even our new U.S. House representative, Tulsi Gabbard. Minds do change.

The federal Defense of Marriage Act has been challenged five times in federal courts and lost every time. Two cases involving it are now going to the U.S. Supreme Court. If, as is possible, DOMA is overturned by the court, the changes would not apply to civil unions, domestic partnerships or anything other than “marriage.” Internationally, only “marriage” is recognized. This is why the word is an important issue to the GLBT communities.

Civil unions were finally realized after Gov. Neil Abercrombie was elected, very quickly and without much “huhu.” No elected official lost his or her position in the subsequent election from voting for civil unions. Handling full marriage equality in a similar manner seems to make the most sense to me.

I encourage the Hawaii Legislature to act quickly with the authority given them by the amendment of 1998, and grant full marriage equality in Hawaii.