Bill appears to be dead in committee, but supporters hope Senate will vote to recall it
HONOLULU — Religious leaders supporting civil unions gathered at the state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 23 to back a bill that would legalize same-sex unions in Hawaii.
John Heidel, a retired United Church of Christ minister, told the crowd that same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples under the U.S. Constitution.
"The basic legal rights granted to married couples should be granted to all couples who are committed in a loving relationship," said Heidel, who is the president of the group The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, which organized the gathering.
He dismissed the concern of some civil union opponents that allowing gay men and lesbians to form civil unions would open the door to approval of polygamous unions and threaten traditional marriage.
"The things that threaten traditional marriage are not other types of family relationships, but the lack of faithfulness, the lack of honesty, the lack of communication within heterosexual marriages," Heidel said. "That’s the real threat to traditional marriage and the family."
Heidel and 21 other members of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii one-by-one signed a statement supporting civil unions while standing in front of the state Capitol.
The signatories included Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists.
Dozens of other civil union supporters — bringing the total crowd to about 70 — showed their support. Some held signs supporting the civil unions bill that appears to have died in committee on a 3-3 vote.
However, the bill can still move to senate floor if nine of the state’s 25 senators vote for recall, a possibility that the bill’s supporters were touting this week.
On Sunday, Feb. 22 several thousand anti-civil union demonstrators rallied at the same spot to oppose civil unions. That gathering was organized by the Hawaii Family Forum.
Patricia A. Gozemba, a retired college professor who splits her time between Hawaii and Massachusetts, said civil unions won’t interfere with the religious views of people who oppose them.
"Nobody is going to ask you to marry a same-sex couple or to perform a civil union for a same-sex couple in your church," Gozemba said. "It is not going to harm your faith."
Gozemba hopes gay men and lesbians in Hawaii will have the same benefits she has in Massachusetts, where she married her wife. Not having those rights and benefits has given her pause about moving here permanently.
For example, when Gozemba had to go to the emergency room at The Queen’s Medical Center last year, she learned she couldn’t rely on the hospital to call her wife because their marriage isn’t recognized in Hawaii.
"That was disconcerting in a moment of stress in my life," Gozemba said, while holding a pro-civil unions sign.
Josephine Chang, co-founder of Da Moms — a group for mothers of gay men and lesbians — said discrimination hurts the families of gay men and lesbians as well.
Parents may withdraw from each other and their extended families upon learning a child is gay because they don’t know how to cope with the discrimination, Chang said. She said parents also go into the closet.
"It’s about love and compassion for all members of our community," said Chang, a retired public servant who has one gay son and two straight sons.
Brad Lum, a Hawaiian from Honolulu, said many gay men and lesbians in Hawaiian families feel ashamed to come out about their sexual orientation because of the social stigma. Children are told they can "be gay" at home but not outside their homes, he said.
In contrast, Hawaiians of old honored gay men and women as having pono, or righteousness, Lum said.
The 56-year-old Hawaiian studies teacher said he joined Monday’s gathering because of a sense of responsibility to himself and the community.
"It takes people like me to teach tolerance, to teach malama, which is taking care of each other, to teach kuleana, which is responsibility," Lum said.