Compelling Testimony On Bill 1

How big is the issue of marriage equality?

When the bill came to the Senate floor last week, Hawaii lawmakers knew they were being watched – closely.

When they passed Senate Bill 1, 20-4, it immediately became big news all over the United States.

Make no mistake, people care about this.

Our politicians took their time to get us to this point. And maybe it’s a good thing, because they, and we, needed to be absolutely certain we were ready for this contentious civil rights battle.

Republican Sen. Sam Slom gave a speech I found condescending and quite repugnant in its negative extremism and lack of respect. He basically discounted and disparaged the stated beliefs of his colleagues who see same-sex marriage as an issue of equality.

By contrast, Sen. Mike Gabbard, a Democrat who opposes gay marriage, offered an observation to support his plea for a public vote. The issue, he said, has been a contentious bone in Hawaii politics for 20 years. People on both sides are guilty of demonizing their opponents: “I know the emails have been pouring in to your offices as well. Let’s see, I’m sure most of you didn’t get the ones calling you a hater, homo-phobe, Nazi, etc. I think those were reserved for the Minority leader and myself. Maybe you got the ones calling you Satan, and that you’re going to burn in hell eternally if you vote the wrong way on this measure. So much for the aloha spirit.”

Take more time to hash it out, Gabbard said, then put it to the people. What’s the rush?

While I disagree strongly with his opinion, I appreciated his lack of vituperation and the civility of his argument.

Sen. Clayton Hee, who shepherded the bill through the Judiciary and Labor Committee, framed the struggle as reminiscent of the great civil rights issues of the past:

“The year was 1958. Eighteen-year-old Mildred Jeter, who was part black and part Cherokee Indian, and 24-year-old Richard Loving, a white man of Irish-English descent, journeyed from their hometown in Virginia to get married in Washington, D.C.”

They returned to Virginia, only to be arrested five weeks later.

“The record indicates that the county sheriff and two deputies found their way into the couple’s bedroom, shined a flashlight into their faces and demanded to know what they were doing in bed together. When Mildred answered, ‘I am his wife,’ and Richard directed the officers to the District of Columbia marriage certificate that hung on the bedroom wall, the sheriff curtly informed them that their marriage was not valid in the state of Virginia. He then arrested the bewildered couple and hauled them off to jail.”

The Lovings’ case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional.

“On June 12, 2007, just a little over six years ago, Mildred Loving – an active member of a Baptist Church and widowed for 32 years from the man she fought so hard to wed legally – released a statement commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision. Titled, ‘Loving for All,’ Mrs. Loving proclaimed her belief that all Americans, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation, ‘should have that same freedom to marry.’ She ended her statement by saying, ‘That is what the Loving case, and loving, are all about.'”

Sen. Michelle Kidani countered religious opposition by referring to the Bible:

“The New Commandment of Jesus to ‘love one another’ is part of the final instructions given to his disciples after the Last Supper had ended. This commandment appears 13 times in 12 verses in the New Testament – including:

“John 3:11: For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

“John 3:23: And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.

“John 4:7: Let us love one another: for love is of God.

“It is not enough to say you care and love someone without also caring about their well-being and their happiness. This bill for marriage equality is not only for constitutional justice but also to tell our gay brothers and sisters that we recognize your right to the pursuit of happiness.”

Sen. Jill Tokuda’s speech resonated with me the most.

“Some of the letters I have received have asked me to reconsider my position on this issue, as a mother of young children.

“As you all know, I am a wife and mother to Matt and Aden first, and those roles give context to many of the decisions I make here in this body. It did so on this issue as well, but perhaps not in the way that some may think.

“I have only a few basic things on my life’s bucket list, and one of those things is to dance with my sons at their weddings.

“And maybe it’s because my mom didn’t get that chance to dance with my brother at his wedding, or receive my bouquet at mine.

“But it got me thinking about all of the other mothers and fathers out there who just want that moment with their child and who’ve suffered alongside them with their rights denied.

“Pope Francis said, ‘Who am I to judge?’

“I ask, ‘Who am I to deny?'”

My thanks to all of our lawmakers for their work.

Mahalo to the organizers, the activists, the believers and every one of the ordinary citizens who had the courage to speak out, sign petitions and submit testimony.