Hawaii’s marriage equality fight quickly turned nasty, with underhanded tactics from opponents designed to derail progress — and yet still the marriage equality bill is marching on. Here’s what you need to know about where the fight is at right now and what’s to come.
With the Hawaii Senate already having passed a bill to legalize marriage equality, focus has now shifted to the House where this past week more than 5,000 people put their names down to speak for and against the bill. This has provoked some interesting speeches on the House floor.
Among them was Hawaii police union president Tenari Maafala, an active duty officer, who told legislators they would have to “kill” him before he would ever enforce same-sex marriage — though what there would be to enforce remains unclear. There was of course the usual dire predictions about same-sex marriage hurting children, that this lifestyle choice should not be given the status of marriage and ultimately that gay marriage will destroy religious rights. There have, however, been a few bright spots.
Hawaii geneticist Dean Hamer delivered a knock-out blow to those who contend gay identity is a choice by taking the podium and explaining that, actually, a person’s sexuality is an immutable characteristic. A video of the testimony appears below. It is a long video, but certainly worth watching if you have the time as it contains a brilliant overview of the current scientific consensus on sexuality that is stated in very clear terms.
Hawaii Suffers Testimony Fraud?
The Hawaii legislature was forced to bring in strict new rules as to who could testify on the same-sex marriage bill this week after it emerged that people had apparently taken advantage of a stolen registration list that was taken from the check-in table on Saturday night. Officials suspect that the list was used so that people who had already testified could obtain a new speaking number using another individual’s name.
“We do know that somebody took the list and they were using that to encourage other people to give misinformation on who they are. Clearly, when we cracked down on checking ID’s that was stopped,” said House Finance committee Chair Sylvia Luke, who confirms lawmakers have suspected something wasn’t right since Thursday. “On the first day we noticed some inconsistencies, because there was maybe about a dozen people that came up to the podium and said there [sic] number and it was a totally different name — but because it was happening so frequently, we thought it was a glitch in our system,” explained Luke.
There have also been allegations of people using proxies in order to ensure that testimony against the bill was overwhelming, with church pastors said to have encouraged people to send other family members in their stead if they were not able to make it.
New rules will ensure that this practice does not continue. Now, only those people with a valid registration number and ID will be able to go up to the podium to speak. This, unfortunately, has meant that those who had genuine reasons for wishing to use a proxy will now not be able to do so.
The Legal Challenge that Aims to Derail Marriage Equality in Hawaii
Of course, this will all be academic if a lawsuit one anti-marriage equality lawmaker has filed manages to derail proceedings. The lawsuit centers on the very particular nature of Hawaii’s constitutional amendment that was used to ban same-sex marriage. Rather than explicitly defining away the right to marriage equality, Hawaii’s Constitutional Amendment 2 asked the voting public:
Shall the Constitution of the state of Hawaii be amended to specify that the Legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples?
The amendment, which created Section 23 of the state constitution as it reads today, which the voting public agreed to in 1998, simply allows the legislature to refuse gay marriage rights if it sees fit. As such, the state government and the state’s attorney general’s office have agreed that by the same token the Legislature has been invested with the power to legalize same-sex marriage by removing this restriction.
However, State Rep. Bob McDermott is challenging this contention in the state circuit courts, saying that Hawaii voters didn’t mean to give the Legislature the power to legalize gay marriage but that they thought they were voting on a total ban. He says their understanding of a constitutional amendment, as opposed to what they were actually voting on, matters:
“What did the people understand they were voting on? Between a man and a woman only, because that’s what they were told by the Office of Elections,” said McDermott.
Legal experts have said McDermott’s suit appears on shaky ground though because no matter what McDermott or others thought they were voting on, and even if the Office of Elections did mislead, the text of the amendment is very clear: while lawmakers could reserve marriage to being between just a man and woman the amendment does not mean this has to be the case. There is also a certain irony in McDermott wanting to correct, as it were, the will of the people when in say California the will of the people was taken by anti-marriage equality groups as absolute.
Sadly, this suit doesn’t look like it will go away quickly as McDermott has said he is willing to take the fight all the way to the state’s supreme court if necessary. This could mean that, long after same-sex marriage has been passed by the Legislature, a certain amount of doubt — though perhaps not very much — will linger on as to whether Hawaii will keep the marriage equality it has fought so hard to gain.
What’s Next for Hawaii’s Gay Marriage Effort?
Nevertheless, the Hawaii House Judiciary and House Finance Committees voted to advance the bill on Tuesday night, setting it up for a full House floor vote.
An exact vote tally is not yet available but advocates remain optimistic that the bill can reach the majority it needs to pass, especially with the broad religious exemptions that are made explicit in the bill.
Governor Neil Abercrombie has championed the bill and so, barring any unforeseen poison pill amendments, will sign when the legislation reaches his desk.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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