Hawaii civil union advocates aim to bolster lawmakers’ support
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Gay rights activists are trying to give state lawmakers political cover by showing that prominent people in the community support civil unions.
Activists are circulating a photo booklet of hundreds of people who back civil unions — from former Gov. Ben Cayetano to former Miss Universe Brook Lee — to demonstrate mainstream desire for equal rights.
The photo booklet, along with newspaper advertisements and a separate collection of portraits of same-sex couples and their families, is part of a strategy to help convince lawmakers in the state House to force a vote on civil unions before the state Legislature adjourns on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Bishop Larry Silva, of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawai'i, sent lawmakers a message yesterday thanking them for not passing civil unions this session.
Silva said gays and lesbians have every right to enjoy safety and dignity, but he described a right to marry as a "manufactured claim" that would dissolve the common good that binds people in the community together.
State House leaders indefinitely postponed action on a civil-unions bill in January and lawmakers say no vote is scheduled this week. But any House lawmaker can make a motion to suspend House rules — including the rule postponing action on civil unions — and trigger a vote.
"Right now, there is no confirmed action. So that would be something that any member has the right under the process to make a motion for in the next three days," said state House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, D-33rd ('Aiea, Hālawa Valley, 'Aiea Heights).
"At this point, I am unaware of a specific House member who is willing to do so."
Oshiro, the bill's sponsor, said he would not force a vote. Others say that the odds the bill will move are poor but they do not want to alienate gay rights activists by publicly dismissing their resolve.
Strategists behind the move, speaking privately, said the key is finding an influential lawmaker to make the motion and then to get the minimum number of lawmakers — 11 — to force a roll call vote instead of a voice vote where they can remain anonymous. House Democrats have voted for civil unions in the past, and activists believe they would again in a roll call vote where their votes would be recorded.
The photo booklet is meant to help lawmakers defend such a vote in this year's elections.
Dante Carpenter, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i, has asked Democrats to become part of the booklet and honor the party's platform in support of equal rights.
Democrat activists, who tend to be more liberal than the lawmakers they help elect, are frustrated that the bill has stalled even though a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate claim to support it.
Tambry Young, the co-chair of Equality Hawai'i, was at the state Capitol yesterday with her partner, Suzanne King, the treasurer of Citizens for Equal Rights, and their 10-year-old daughter, Shylar.
Young and King, who have been together for 29 years, were married in Massachusetts in November but their marriage is not recognized in Hawai'i.
"It's important to the children that their family structure be recognized," King said. "That's really what you're doing. There's no harm. Nobody is going to get hurt by this. It's something that's just really good for the community. It's good for families. It strengthens families."
The bill would allow both same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and enjoy the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law. Civil unions, same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships performed in other states would be recognized as civil unions in Hawai'i.
Religious conservatives and other opponents of civil unions would likely be outraged if the bill comes up on the last day of session. The action would fuel organizing efforts to make civil unions an issue in the September primary and November general election.
Silva warned that civil unions could undermine religious freedom.
"Passage of the bill would only continue to erode religious freedom and would ultimately cast those who hold long-cherished cultural beliefs as people whose ideas are simply anachronistic and dangerous," the bishop wrote lawmakers. "Children could no longer be taught in any public setting that the essential equality but real difference between male and female has any significance.
"In a worst-case scenario, thought police would censor writings and speech that promote the distinction between and complementary nature of the sexes. This has already become a reality in many countries that have approved same-sex marriage. I urge you not to open Hawai'i to the possibility of such a scenario."