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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Hawaii

2013-OCT:
Anti-SSM TV ad analysis. Rallies for/against SSM.
Special Legislature session begins.
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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2013-OCT: Analysis of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) TV ad:

The ad can be viewed in the previous essay.

A key statement in the video is:

"... when marriage is redefined, people and families are punished for not agreeing."

To our knowledge, no American has ever been punished for believing that marriage should be restricted to opposite-sex couples. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individual freedom of religious thought and religious expression.

However, in some circumstances when people apply their religious beliefs to denigrate, oppress, or discriminate others, they can run afoul of their state's human rights laws. This has occasionally happened to some businesses like wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, wedding dress stores, etc. They provide a "public accommodation." That is, they are in business to supply goods and/or services to the general public. Some have chosen to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to serve them. The dozen or so cases that we have seen discussed in the media have all been motivated by the owner(s) conservative religious beliefs causing them to want to discriminate against lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

Human rights legislation is intended to guarantee that sole proprietors and companies that are in business to serve the general public do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their race, skin color, religion, gender, degree of disability, country of origin, etc. In Hawaii and many other states, the protected criteria also include sexual orientation (thus protecting heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals) and gender identify (thus protecting cisgender, transgender, and transsexual individuals). In short, the laws protect members of the public of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. equally.

The NOM video includes some newspaper clippings at about the 18 second mark. They include newspaper headlines about four past human rights conflicts in the U.S.:

  • A Vermont inn that provided a wedding venue was sued because they refused to rent their facilities to a same-sex couple.

  • A District of Columbia law requires adoption agencies to consider all couples who come to them seeking a child to adopt. Catholic Charities in DC automatically rejected all same-sex couples who applied as potential parents. Rather than stop their discrimination, they closed their adoption service. The children that they were serving were transferred to other adoption agencies that do not automatically exclude same-sex couples. Some of these adoption services were secular; others were religious.

  • A baker was fined by a state human rights tribunal for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

  • A wedding photographer in New Mexico refused to provide services to a lesbian who asked that the company photograph her committment ceremony. This was not a wedding. It was a personally written ritual without legal or theological significance.

There have been perhaps a dozen or so similar conflicts in North America that we have seen covered by conservative religious information web sites. The conflicts are not necessarily related to same-sex marriages. One in Canada was related to a printing company refusing to print material for a LGBT group. The New Mexico case mentioned above involved an informal ceremony. A case in New Jersey was associated with a civil union.

In these cases of active discrimination against the LGBT community, the root cause of the company's or agency's legal difficulties is not same-sex marriage. It is the decision by legislators to include sexual orientation in the list of groups protected under human rights legislation. Rather than attempting to prevent SSM, religious conservatives might want to try to modify the human rights legislation in each state so that busineses would be allowed to freely discriminate against the LGBT community. It is unlikely that they would succeed because it is generally acknowledged that when a business discriminations on some arbitrary basis as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. it can be profoundly disrupting to the culture.

These conflicts have been described by religious conservatives as restrictions on the company owner's religious freedom or religious liberty. But it is not the traditional understanding of religious freedom that is being restricted; that includes freedom of religious belief, freedom of assembly, freedom to proselytize, etc. It is the newly emerging meaning to the term "religious freedom" which is the freedom to apply one's beliefs to control, denigrate, discriminate against, and/or oppress others.

For persons of all religious faiths, refusing to serve a section of the public conflicts with their faith's Ethic of Reciprocity -- commonly called the "Golden Rule" in Christianity. This states that one should treat other people as one would wish to be treated by them. So, for example, when a wedding photographer is approached by a potential customer who wants photos or videos taken of his or her family gathering, civil union ceremony, or wedding, the Ethic of Reciprocity calls on the business owner to make every effort to accommodate the customer. We discuss a recent New Mexico case in detail elsewhere on this web site.

Some of these companies convicted by human rights tribunals have benefited financially. They have found that their business increased rapidly after they were found guilty and fined. They found that many potential customers preferentially seek them out as a preferred suppliers -- not in spite of their discriminatory policy against LGBTs, but because of it.

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2013-OCT-23: Family Research Council's comment and prayer about marriage:

The Family Research Council is a conservative Christian para-church organization, which has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay hate group. 3

They announced a group of "prayer targets," one of which was marriage equality in Hawaii. Their news release stated that three states were currently:

"... in immediate same-sex jeopardy, including Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico. In the mid-90's, Hawaii was the first state to threaten the legalization of homosexual marriage. Because of the rapid response of Hawaii's churches, the same-sex marriage effort was defeated, and the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in anticipation of similar threats elsewhere. The forces for and against same-sex marriage are in spiritual and political hand-to-hand combat -- polls showing voters evenly divided: 44% to 44%. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has called a special session of the Legislature, something he said he would not do unless the votes were there to pass. Meanwhile, some Hawaiians believe a legal assault against churches, seeking exorbitant back rents and future fees from those that rent public school facilities is motivated by the same-sex marriage fight. Also, the New Mexico Supreme Court will hear arguments over same-sex marriage today. There, eight counties have been illegally issuing same-sex marriage licenses. ..."

  • "May God help the pastors and churches in New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico, to stand and do what only they can to withstand and stop the evil of 'legalized' same-sex marriage. May God give them eyes to see that there can be no religious freedom in a society where homosexual license is honored above God and religious liberty. Some try to twist what God's word says about sin. But His Word says 'the wages of sin is death' (Rom 6:23) and the Scripture goes on to say that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Rom 3:23). Our prayer and goal is for all to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of sin, regardless of what that sin may be. Our concern is that when a society embraces as acceptable what God calls sin, it will lead many not to a temporal destruction, but an eternal separation from God. 2

Although the Family Research Council quoted the results from "polls" their data was actually extracted from only a single poll -- by the Merriman River Group. That poll gave results that conflicted with three other Hawaiian polls and many other recent national and state polls taken this year. One reason is that 69% of the voters polled by Merriman were 50 years-of-age or older. It is a well-known fact that older voters tend to be much less supportive of same-sex marriage than adults under 40. Two other Hawaiian polls in 2013, which obtained data from a truly random sample of the population, showed 55% and 54% support for same-sex marriage. These values are similar to those found in polls in other states and nationally. More details

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2013-OCT-26: Media reporting of rallies on the weekend before the special legislative session began:

Hawaii News Now had a fascinating video by KGMB and KHNL-TV showing a number of public demonstrations for and against same-sex marriage 3 They were peaceful in nature, consisting of people standing by the side of the road holding up signs for passing motorists. Unfortunately, the video appears to be no longer online.

In that video, one anti-equality protestor held up a hand-painted sign whose text was only shown briefly and was difficult to read. It said:

"Leviticus 18:22. Romans 1:18-32. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. This is [sic] moral absolutes not hate speach [sic]. Vote no at sepcial [sic] session on gay marriage."

The references are to three of the six "clobber passages" in the Bible that are often used to attack the LGBT community and SSM marriage:

  • Leviticus 18:22 is ambiguous. Sincere, thoughtful, highly trained theologians have interpreted this passage as condemning:
    • All same-gender sexual behavior, by either men or women, or
    • All same-gender sexual behavior, by men only , or
    • Sexual activity by two Jewish males on a woman's bed.
    • Sexual activity by a Jewish male and a male sacred prostitute in a Pagan temple.

  • Romans 1:18-32 is also ambiguous. It has been interpreted as condemning:
    • All same-gender behavior by either two men or two women, or
    • Same-gender sexual behavior by two heterosexuals, in violation of their personal sexual orientation.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is also ambiguous. It has been interpreted as condemning:
    • "homosexual offenders" (NIV)
    • "abusers of themselves with men" (KJV)
    • adult males who sexually abuse boys.

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2013-OCT-28: The special session of the Legislature begins:

Hawaiian legislators gathered on Monday, OCT-28 for the beginning of the special session. Several bills will be studied and voted upon. However, SB1 "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013" has generated by far the greatest interest. The Senate has long been expected to pass the bill easily. Observers were not as confident of whether there are sufficient votes in the House. Governor Abercrombie is one of the most dedicated supporters of the bill and is expected to sign it into law if it is passed by the Legislature.

Representative Mark Takai (D) voted against the creation of Civil Unions in 2011. However, he now supports SSM. He said:

"Just like a lot of other people throughout this nation and also throughout this state, I think for me personally I've gone through a process and evolution.  I'm grateful for this opportunity this next week to vote yes, because it's the right thing to do."   

"I think a lot has changed.  I think when you take a look at the [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] decisions made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the overturning of [Section 3 of] the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court this past summer — those are pretty significant steps towards equality.  I think it's only fair to provide the same benefits and the opportunities that other states have provided and that the federal government is providing currently.  My transformation is based on that, as well as just — I think it's time for the laws of the state of Hawai'i to reflect the aloha spirit. ... I do believe that it's important to provide exemptions for religions to practice their faith in churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.  I also believe that it's important for businesses not to discriminate" 4

Rep. Takai continued by discussing the constitutional amendment that gave the Legislature the authority to redefine marriage:

"I believe based on the constitutional amendment — the language of the amendment — and also based on my being here the last 20 years, it is time for the legislature to act.  We can't wait any longer, there's so much that has happened especially in the past year with the federal government moving forward and many other states moving forward.  It's time for the Legislature and the state to act. ... My [Christian] faith held me to a different vote, but even in the situation with civil unions — in my heart, it wasn't a vote that I 100% felt comfortable with.  I do believe that there are people out there that may be disappointed or will be disappointed with my vote, but I can tell you at the end of the day, it is the right vote that I'm taking and it is based on what I believe to be in the deepest fibers of my heart.  It is about fairness and love and equality, and how can you not support it if it's based on that?" 4

Representative Mark Oshiro (D) plans to vote against the SB1 bill. He said:

"My vote right now is no. What is the rush for a special session?  Why would you want to expedite this one measure over all other rights?  All other issues of the day?  Why?  There's no exigent circumstance calling for this.  There's no emergency.  There's no constitutional or legal crisis saying Hawai'i's law is illegal or Hawai'i's constitution is illegal, that is not the case.

This is the first time in nearly 20 years that the Governor unilaterally has evoked his Constitutional authority to call us in without having an agreement with all the members in the all the parties — a strong consensus on moving this direction, on the bill itself.  This is quite extraordinary. ... If the people in their wisdom choose to amend the Constitution for whatever reason, that's certainly their right and their prerogative, but the concern I have is that given where we are today in this discussion you might play to the worst fears of people, the worst prejudices of people — when you need not do that.  I've been always from the very beginning — what's the rush on this special session? Isn't there other options we have for the people?  You can ram this thing through and win the victory at some point in time, but that's going to be a short-lived shallow victory because you're going to leave a lot of people out there ill-effected, ill-treated, and it's not going to serve anyone's interest. .. I think there are deeply held beliefs and therefore deeply held votes on both sides, but I also believe there are deeply held people today, colleagues, who are wrestling with this issue sincerely and have not made a final decision."

Representative Jo Jordon (D) voted in favor of civil unions but is undecided on SB1. She said:

"How can I say I'm a supporter or not a supporter when I can't tell you what that final bill is going to read?  If I say I support something right now and I'm not palatable with that thing -- how am I going to take back those words?  If I say right now I'm not supportive of it and I am supportive of it in the end, how am I going to do that?  As legislators we should be able to argue our stance — if my constituency supports it or not supports it, I should be able to argue that."

She estimates that about 75% of those of her constituents who have contacted her support the bill. She expressed concern about misinformation being spread about SB1. Two of the untruths that she cited were that:

  • There will be no opportunity for the public to explain their position to Senate and House Committees, and

  • Legislators will not be allowed to introduce amendments to the bill.

In fact, over 5,000 members of the public eventually signed up to give their testimony, and about 30 amendments were proposed and voted upon by the members of the House.

Rep. Jordon is an openly lesbian legislator. She is believed to be the first openly gay lawmaker to vote against marriage equality. She was heavily criticized by the LGBT community for her stance. 5

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. David Demirbilek, "Southern Poverty Law Center repeats 'hate group' claim about Family Research Council," Daily Caller, 2012-SEP-13, at: http://dailycaller.com/
  2. "Prayer Targets: Stand; Marriage in NJ, HI, NM & IL; Principled Men; ENDA; Billy Graham," Family Research Council, 2013-OCT-23, at: http://www.frc.org/
  3. "Continuing coverage: Gay marriage debate," Hawaii News Now, 2013-OCT-25. This video was at http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/ but appears to be no longer available.
  4. Mileka Lincoln, "House has votes to pass same-sex marriage bill, some lawmakers still undecided," Hawaii News Now, 2013-OCT-28, at: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/
  5. Diane Lee, "Exclusive: Why Rep. Jo Jordan voted against Marriage Equality," Honolulu Magazine, 2013-NOV, at: http://www.honolulumagazine.com/

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2012-OCT-16
Latest update: 2013-NOV-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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