Marriage Language Confusing To Many Voters

Rep’n Mililani …Rep. Beth Fukumoto

Gov. Abercrombie’s decision to call a special session has triggered a flurry of phone calls and emails from our community regarding same-sex marriage. The No. 1 question I’ve received is, “How can the governor do this – I thought we already voted?”

In 1998, I was still three years from voting age, but I clearly remember the frustration of those around me as they tried to decipher what the question, “Shall the Legislature have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples?” actually would do. People were told that by voting “yes” they could preserve traditional marriage, so many did. But no one really understood why the question wasn’t simply whether or not to institute same-sex marriage. Even 15 years later, from the volume of inquiries I’ve received, it seems few people got their questions answered by their elected officials.

At the time of the amendment, there was a court case that could have allowed same-sex marriage based on the equal protection clause in the Hawaii Constitution. The amendment was conceived and presented as a way to prevent the courts from establishing same-sex marriage and preserve traditional marriage. The language, however, was crafted by the Legislature in such a way that it also preserved the option for the Legislature to redefine marriage at a later date. Even among legislators, the interpretation of the amendment is sometimes murky, but this idea that the Legislature was given the power to define marriage is currently the operating paradigm.

This interpretation means that the 1998 constitutional amendment was only a temporary victory for traditional marriage advocates. The many people who are calling my office today, confused and frustrated, are rightfully upset that what was thought to be a permanent definition of marriage between one man and one woman wasn’t permanent at all. A special session, with likely limited public input, seems unfair for those who thought they had already voted to “reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples” as stated in the amendment.

Whether you are for or against same-sex marriage, the lack of clarity surrounding this issue shows why we need more honesty and more transparency in the legislative and electoral process.

Last session, I signed on to and voted for a number of measures that would increase government reporting and improve public interaction in the legislative process. One of the bills, House Bill 300, would have required the publication of information on proposed constitutional amendments. Moving forward, these are the ideas that we need to push because informed decision-making is a vital part of democracy.

For now, my hope is our community will get involved in the upcoming special session and stay in touch with their elected officials. It’s important that all members of the public have the opportunity to be heard.

Call Rep. Fukumoto-R, District 36 (Mililani-Waipio Acres) at 586-9460, or email repfukumoto@capitol.hawaii .gov.