Star-Advertiser: “Marriage equality path as clear as ever”

November 8, 2013

StarAdvertiser2As the House takes up SB1 for a third and final reading today, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser says the path to secure marriage for all of Hawaii’s `ohana is clearer than ever. Read the paper’s full editorial below:

Same-sex couples and heterosexual couples deserve the same marriage rights, and the special session of Hawaii’s Legislature has made this essential truth even more obvious.

Lawmakers should move swiftly to approve a measure that succeeds in bestowing overdue legal recognition to same-sex couples, while preserving the religious liberty of those who so outspokenly oppose this advancement of civil rights.

Over the course of the special session, which began in the Senate on Oct. 28 and continues this week in the House, lawmakers have heard from some 30,000 people on the issue, via written testimony or in person. Some of the public testimony veered wildly off point. Some hateful attitudes were exposed. Intolerance emerged.

But there were many highlights, too, from speakers who spoke passionately in favor of the measure, wishing for their gay brothers and sisters the same rights that they take for granted. Respectful testimony came from clergy and others who cited religious faith as the source of their opposition, expressing concerns that First Amendment rights were at risk.

And, of course, there were the eloquent voices of those most directly affected: the gay men and women who love their partners and want to marry them. Not enter a civil union or forge a domestic partnership. Wedded bliss, in all its tumultuous glory.

It doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Hawaii, which once blazed a trail on this issue, is no longer a pioneer. Fourteen other states have already legalized same-sex marriage, and Illinois is poised to be the 15th; a bill approved this week awaits the promised signature from that state’s governor.

Let’s hope that Hawaii will be No. 16, and soon.

Hawaii’s Senate has approved the measure we prefer, the original SB1, which bestows to same-sex couples the full rights and responsibilities of marriage as heterosexual couples now hold. SB1 does not infringe on religious freedom — clergy would not be forced to perform same-gender weddings — and does maintain the core integrity of Hawaii’s public-accommodations law, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation at establishments generally open to the public.

The House’s amended version of the bill expands the exemption for clergy — which is explicitly stated in SB1 and recognizes religious freedom protected by the U.S. and state constitutions — extending it to religious organizations and to nonprofits aligned with religious organizations.

Under the House version, those entities would be exempt from the public-accommodations law and could refuse to provide goods, services, facilities or grounds for weddings or wedding celebrations that violate religious beliefs. The House version is modeled after Connecticut’s 2009 same-sex marriage law, considered to hold one of the broadest religious exemptions in the country.

We much prefer the Senate version of the bill and hope it prevails. Same-sex marriage advocates such as Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Attorney General David Louie also prefer the narrower exemption, but say they can live with the House version, if that’s what it takes to get same-sex marriage approved in Hawaii. That’s prudent.

Throughout the sometimes infuriating, often inspiring, always illuminating public debate over same-sex marriage, the scope and breadth of the people, organizations and institutions who support or oppose expanding rights for gay men and women have come into clearer focus.

As the House continues its work, and then reconciles its version with the Senate’s, we remain hopeful that marriage equality will soon rule the day. We’re confident that our state, standing up for the civil rights of all, will be the better for it.