Time to move toward true family equality
By Eduardo Hernandez
The road to civil rights equality is a long and bumpy one. The map showing us how to get there is torn and difficult to read. But this doesn't mean we should cut the trip short and go back. In fact, it's more important than ever to keep moving forward, especially as regards family equality.
Way back in the early 1990s Hawai'i was poised to become a global leader for family equality. Then, ignorance, fear and lies overcame the simple truth that all families deserve to be treated equally under the law. Civil rights equality was shamefully placed on the ballot as a constitutional amendment relating to same-sex marriage. The amendment, very shortly worded, does not actually prohibit same-sex marriage; rather, it provides the Legislature with the power to define marriage.
Under this amendment, the Legislature may, but is not required to, define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. And, while for the forseeable future, the Legislature is unlikely to repeal this law, though they have the legal right to do so, there is growing momentum that Hawai'i should now take a big step toward family equality by passing comprehensive civil-unions legislation.
Civil unions have been recognized as a reasonable compromise measure that provides protection for families, while retaining a traditional definition for marriage. It could hardly be considered equal to marriage, because it is unrecognized at the federal level and unequal to all those who are married or could become married.
Nevertheless, taking this big step toward family equality is a measure endorsed by a growing chorus of organizations and institutions who take their responsibility for protecting families very seriously. This list includes the American Academy of Pediatricians, the National Association of Social Workers and The American Psychological Association. In Hawai'i, support for civil unions has been demonstrated by neighborhood boards, labor organizations including the AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE Local 5, as well as religious organizations including the American Friends Service Committee and the Interfaith Alliance. Civil unions are good for business, too; that's why the principal consultant of Microsoft Hawai'i, and the CEO of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority testified in support of civil unions earlier this year.
The world has changed significantly since 1998, and we now have proof that family equality, without regard for sexual orientation, does not destroy society, harm children or weaken the institution of marriage. This has been proven in places like South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, as well as across the U.S. from New Jersey, Vermont and Connecticut to California and Massachusetts.
It is time for Hawai'i legislators to enact comprehensive family equality legislation. This measure ought to be part of the Democratic majority package introduced in 2008 as it helps working families to address the high cost of living; builds Hawai'i's competitiveness in the global economy; and honors our traditions while providing civil -rights protection that makes all communities stronger.
Eduardo Hernandez is co-chairman of Family Equality Coalition. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.