Tuesday January 19, 2010

Hawaii Faces Same-Sex Civil Unions Vote Today

By Hilary White

HONOLULU, January 19, 2010 ( – Thousands of pro-family demonstrators filled the state capital of Hawaii this Sunday, telling legislators that homosexual “civil unions” are not welcome in their state. Attendees at the event, sponsored by the Hawaii Family Forum, were joined by Lt. Gov. James Aiona, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and several state lawmakers. Similar events were held across the state, with hundreds more rallying at the State Building in Wailuku.

At the same time, about a hundred homosexualist activists and their supporters held an interfaith service at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.

Hawaii legislators reconvene today and are expected to address Bill HB 444, which would allow same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples to obtain all of the rights and benefits of legally married couples. HB 444 was passed by the Hawaii House of Representatives in February 2009 and amended to include opposite-sex couples. It was passed in the Senate in May 2009 but was delayed after protests, to be carried over in the 2010 session.

Former state Rep. Dennis Arakaki, head of the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference, said that the “no” side has “changed tremendously, in our favor.” House Speaker Calvin Say, a Democrat, has suggested that the bill could stall in the House if the Senate vote turns out to be close and could face a gubernatorial veto. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has refused to say whether she will veto the bill, however.

Honolulu Catholic Bishop Larry Silva in a letter last week called civil unions “simply a euphemism” for “gay marriage” and urged his 220,000-strong flock to lobby against the bill. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that all “unjust discrimination” against those suffering from homosexual inclinations must be avoided, Silva said that not all “discrimination” is necessarily unjust.

“Some is quite justified because it is based on reality and truth,” the bishop said. “While every person, no matter his or her sexual orientation, is worthy of dignity and respect and has certain inalienable rights given by the Creator, there is no right for people of the same sex to call their unions marriage.”

Should it be made law, HB 444 would make Hawaii the first state in the Western United States to grant same-sex civil unions equivalent status to natural marriage. The measure, however, would have no impact on federal tax and other benefits that only apply to married opposite-sex couples. Similar bills are pending or expected to be tabled in New Mexico, Illinois and Minnesota.

Currently the state of Hawaii recognizes neither same-sex civil unions nor “gay marriage,” but two unmarried people can register for what is called a “reciprocal beneficiary relationship,” which provides some of the rights and benefits that come with marriage.

In 1993, a decision by the Hawaii State Supreme Court found the state’s refusal to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses was discriminatory; but moves to create same-sex marriage or civil unions were stopped by a constitutional amendment reserving marriage to opposite-sex couples.