Thousands rally against same-sex civil unions bill
• Photo gallery: Capitol rally
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Thousands of people filled the state Capitol yesterday with prayer and song, a celebration of traditional values laced with an explicit warning to state lawmakers to preserve marriage as between a man and a woman.
The rally, sponsored by the Hawai'i Family Forum, was intended to energize religious conservatives to vote and influence the September primary and November general election. But it was also a demonstration of the potential backlash lawmakers face if they move forward with civil unions.
The state Senate is expected to consider a civil-unions bill soon after the session opens on Wednesday. The bill would give same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.
The state House will decide how to proceed on the bill based in part on whether the Senate gets a two-thirds' vote necessary to override a veto. The House passed a civil-unions bill last session that applies only to same-sex couples.
Many at the rally yesterday made no distinction between civil unions and marriage, even though the bill does not redefine marriage, which under state law is between a man and a woman.
"This is your house. And this is the Lord's house," Dennis Arakaki, of the Hawai'i Family Forum, told rally attendees, a sea of white shirts that spilled from the rotunda and extended across the mauka side of the Capitol.
The rally was not designed as a platform for politicians, but two potential candidates for governor — Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann — addressed the crowd.
Aiona, a Catholic, said he and his wife, Vivian, may have struggled at times during their marriage, "but we do know one thing. We know that marriage is about a man and a woman. That is true."
Aiona, a Republican candidate for governor, asked people at the rally to get involved in politics and register to vote but to treat those who may disagree on civil unions with "love" and "aloha."
Aiona may benefit the most if religious conservatives turn out in larger numbers in November, because he shares their opinions on a range of social issues. But civil unions may also help separate Hannemann and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary.
Abercrombie has supported civil unions.
Hannemann, a Mormon, has declined to answer specific policy questions in the context of the governor's race because he has not formally decided to enter the primary. But he told the rally he wanted to make it clear he has consistently supported traditional marriage.
"I have never deviated from that position," he said. "I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."
Hannemann also spoke of the power of prayer and the influence "divine guidance" has on his decision-making as mayor. "I want to let you know, I pray for every decision that I make on your behalf," he said.
Father Marc Alexander, of the Diocese of Honolulu, said the rally showed that people of different faiths and racial and ethnic backgrounds are united.
Alexander said core values, such as marriage, "cannot be redefined by any court or Legislature."
At St. Clement's Episcopal Church, meanwhile, more than 100 people representing 13 different religious groups came together in support of equal rights for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
"There is a large faith-based group made up of different religions who are in support of equal rights and the civil-unions bill that will be before the Legislature," said Tambry Young, co-chair of Equality Hawai'i, a group working for equal rights.
Integrity Hawai'i, the Interfaith Alliance and Equality Hawai'i jointly held the mixed religious faith celebration at St. Clement's as a way to counter the rally at the Capitol.
"The service meant a lot to us," said Chaz Hill, who attended with his partner of 14 years. "We took comfort in the nonconfrontational way we are educating people of other gender relationships.
"We wanted to demonstrate love today. That's what it comes down to. It was quiet counter-balance, not a confrontation."
State sheriffs deputies declined to offer a crowd estimate of the rally at the Capitol. It appeared the rally was larger than the estimated 8,000 people who attended a similar rally last February, but significantly smaller than the 24,000 that organizers had targeted.
Organizers said the rally was not for a single issue. The themes were voter registration, preserving traditional marriage and ending poverty. Canned goods were collected for the poor.
Yet religious conservatives have not organized or bused people to the Capitol over the past few years on other issues, such as state budget cuts to education and social services, and many interviewed said they were there specifically to preserve traditional marriage.
Like many who attended, James Abella, who came with his family, heard about the rally through his church.
"In the beginning, the Bible says God created man and woman. And we believe what God says," said Abella, who works in a print shop and lives in 'Ewa Beach.
"The Bible also says that anything against him is a sin."
Cliff Arnold, a civilian security specialist at Schofield Barracks who lives in Salt Lake, said he came to stand for moral values and traditional marriage.
"It's the way God made it. It's always been traditional, and I don't think that should be subverted or changed," he said.
Arnold also attended the rally against civil unions last February and, like many, was disappointed that lawmakers are still considering the bill despite the displays of public opposition.
"To me, it's not right. Morally, it's not right," he said of civil unions. "We were actually hoping we wouldn't have to come out here again."
Deborah Perkins, a nanny who lives in Red Hill and whose husband is an Army chaplain, said she came with people from her church.
"We're just trying to do what the Scripture says," she said.
Perkins said her daughter has friends who are gay and, while she said she loves them, "I don't love what they do.
"But I love them and I'm concerned with their souls."Staff writer Suzanne Roig contributed to this report. Reach Derrick DePledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8070.