Civil-unions bill defies voters' will
By the Rev. Marc R. Alexander
HB 444 seeks to undermine the will of the people expressed by their 1998 vote for our state constitutional marriage amendment.
Civil unions are same-sex marriage in all but name.
In 1998, more than two-thirds of the voters of Hawai'i voted for the passage of a constitutional amendment to reserve marriage to one man and one woman. The amendment, now designated as Section 23 of Article I of our state Constitution, expressly gives the Legislature "the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples."
Public support for reserving marriage to one man and one woman remains overwhelming. A recent SMS survey showed that 67 percent of Hawai'i's voters believe that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.
In spite of the clear will of the people, the civil-unions proposal now before the state Legislature seeks to bestow upon same-sex couples all of the rights and privileges of marriage with the sole exception of the name used to describe their legal status. Indeed, section 9 of the bill clearly states that partners to a civil union will have all the "same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities" presently granted to legally married couples.
Moreover, the bill provides that a "party to a civil union shall be included in any ... use of the terms 'spouse' ... and other terms that denote the spousal relationship," and that a civil union only becomes valid "upon completion of a solemnization" by a member of the clergy or a judge.
Proponents of the civil-unions bill argue that it "will strengthen traditional marriage by removing it from this acrimonious public debate" (the Rev. John Heidel, Jan. 27, Honolulu Advertiser). To the contrary, passage of the civil-unions bill will have the exact opposite effect. It will in all likelihood lead to the full legalization of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex couples' emphatic unwillingness to be satisfied with civil unions is evidenced by the recent decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court granting same-sex couples the right to marry. In support of its decision redefining marriage, the court found that Connecticut's Legislature, "in establishing a statutory scheme consigning same-sex couples to civil unions, has relegated them to an inferior status, in essence, declaring them to be unworthy of the institution of marriage."
Marriage is one of the oldest and most widely respected types of preferred, specially protected relations. The demand that same-sex couples be allowed to marry is a demand for special preferred status for same-sex relations. The demand for same-sex marriage is not merely a demand for "tolerance" of same-sex relations. Rather, it is a claim for the highest type of specially preferred, exceptionally secured status that the law confers.
The Rev. Heidel argues further that civil unions are "a matter of constitutional rights, not religious doctrine." This contradicts the holding of the Hawai'i Supreme Court in the 1993 Baehr v. Lewin case finding that there is no "fundamental constitutional right to same-sex marriage" because such a relationship is not "rooted in the traditions and collective conscience of our people that failure to recognize it would violate the fundamental principles of liberty and justice that lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions." It also contradicts the Supreme Court's subsequent ruling that reserving marriage to one man and one woman does not violate the equal protection clause of Hawai'i's Constitution because of the passage of the 1998 marriage amendment to the state Constitution.
Under Hawai'i's progressive and comprehensive reciprocal beneficiaries law passed in 1997 and set forth in Chapter 572C of the Hawai'i Revised Statutes, same-sex couples and other pairings of individuals who cannot legally marry already have available to them a great many of the benefits available to married couples, such as rights of hospital visitation, inheritance, pension and health insurance benefits, and tax exemptions. If there are additional benefits or privileges that same-sex couples believe they should be granted, the Legislature can consider and pass legislation amending the reciprocal beneficiaries law.
Manufacturing the entirely new legal status of civil unions, requiring that civil unions be "solemnized" by ministers or judges, and bestowing upon same-sex couples all of the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities granted to legally married couples, however, will be just a stepping stone to imposing same-sex marriage upon a public that voted overwhelmingly to constitutionally limit marriage to one man and one woman.