After 20 Years, the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Is Over in Hawai’i
By Stephanie Shor, News Editor
“The times really are changing.” Mika Mulkey, Vice President of Pride Hilo confided with giddy anticipation in the Hale Kehau Dining Room between classes. He would be flying to Honolulu the next day to provide testimony at the monumental vote for same-sex marriage on Oct. 28. At the crucial moment, in which he was given only one minute to speak, he reminded his governmental representatives that “Hawai’i is best known for its values: Aloha, ‘Ohana, Lōkahi, Kuleana, and Pono. These values are NOT limited to just heterosexual couples; in fact they apply to ALL people of Hawai’i.” Civil Unions were previously recognized in Hawai’i, but according to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), “(They) provide legal protection to couples at the state law level, but omit federal protections,” such as social security and health insurance which marriage will now confer.
Just two days after more than 400 Hawaiians testified for their cause in the state capital, on Oct. 30, members of the state Senate approved the proposed legislation 24-1. Pending a final vote by the House Finance and Judiciary Committees, Hawai’i became the 16th state to grant full legal rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities to all same-sex couples according to the United Press International (UPI).
Governor Neil Abercrombie publicly spoke on behalf of his campaign before the Senate vote. He stated, “It’s time for marriage equity to take place, and it’s also time to recognize that it can take place without violating the religious principles of anybody in this state.” Elected as Governor nearly three years ago, Abercrombie has been an active proponent of the fight for gay rights and according to UPI, “Praised the Senate for drafting a proposal he said struck a balance between equal rights and religious freedom.”
The bill will take effect on Dec. 2 and legalizes marriage licenses and ceremonies for all couples, but will not require clergymen and churches to carry out these ceremonies if it is in “Violation of religious ‘beliefs or faiths’” according to a press release issued by the House of Representatives. Hawai’i’s battle for marriage equality has been raging since 1993, when the state Supreme Court found denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to be discriminatory. This was subsequently overturned in 1998 by a popular vote which provided State Legislature with the power to limit the definition of marriage to mixed-sex couples.
The week prior to the historical 2013 court decision, Pride Hilo stood in solidarity for five days outside of Walgreens along Mamalahoa Highway, holding signs and dancing proudly in drag. The opposition was strong most days and Mulkey became anxious at times. “Every day their group just got bigger and bigger, at one moment, there were a hundred or more church members.” The rainbow-clad ralliers, however, were not deterred. “I just latched on to the end of their line with my sign and it was like they were protesting for our side.” Mulkey lit up with fiery laughter at his small victory.
The major victory was soon to come. In the final hour on the fifth and final day of Pride Hilo’s rally, the opposition was nowhere to be found. The lasting remnants of Pride Hilo’s group held hands and chanted as the sun set on Hawai’i’s East Side. “What do we want?” Mulkey screamed. “Equality!” The crowd closed their eyes. “When do we want it?” the charismatic leader solicited the oncoming night. “Now!”
The final vote for “Senate Bill 1” was passed 18-12 by the House Finance and Judiciary Committees after five days and nearly 57 hours of testimony, according to their official press release. On Nov. 5, 2013, over 1,100 federal benefits previously denied to same-sex couples finally became recognized human rights through marriage and official recognition of all love . Testimony from approximately 5,000 residents began on Oct. 31 in what Civil Beat and other news outlets considered to be an attempt at a filibuster by conservative church groups. Justice and equality, however, would not be deterred. One UH student provided his own candid testimony hours before voting began, stating, “Learning to love yourself is the biggest lesson you can learn. And then, suddenly, loving others as they are isn’t such a big deal anymore.”