John M. Becker

Marriage Opponents Scramble for Special Rights in Hawaii

Filed By John M. Becker | October 31, 2013 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-discrimination law, Christianists, gay marriage, Hawaii, marriage equality, religious exemption, same-sex marriage, special rights

hawaii_rainbow.jpgYesterday, by a landslide 20-4 vote, the Hawaiian Senate approved a bill that would make that state the 15th (plus D.C.) to allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. The bill now moves on to the House, where Democrats hold a huge 44-7 majority. Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie supports equal marriage and has promised to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

Predictably, opponents of marriage equality have shifted their strategy from outright opposition to securing broad so-called "religious freedom" exemptions, in order to create a special right to discriminate against same-sex couples for as many people and businesses as possible.

The marriage equality bill passed by the Hawaii Senate currently exempts clergy and churches from being compelled to perform same-sex marriages. It's a redundant and unnecessary provision -- U.S. state governments are already forbidden from telling churches which couples they can and cannot marry -- but it doesn't break any new ground. However, House leaders indicated that they intend to broaden the bill's religious exemptions. Details, after the jump.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports:

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki says it's likely the chamber will amend the bill to change religious exemptions. The Senate bill currently exempts ministers and other clergy from having to perform gay wedding ceremonies, but not for-profit businesses.

"The House committees recognize that there is still a lot of public concern about the scope of the exemptions," Saiki said.

If the House amends the bill, it will have to go back to the Senate for another vote before the governor can sign it.

Hawaii state law currently prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In other words, in Hawaii, you're welcome to hold anti-LGBT views in private, but as soon as you enter the public marketplace and open a public business you're required to serve everyone. Business owners in the Aloha State aren't allowed to refuse service to an LGBT couple any more than they'd be allowed to turn away an interracial couple, a Jewish or Muslim couple, or an elderly couple.

gay_couple.jpgBut this level playing field isn't good enough for business owners like Derrek Miyahara, a Honolulu-based photographer. A born-again Christian, he told HawaiiNewsNow that abiding by the same rules as everyone else would, as reporter Jim Mendoza phrases it, "put him in legal limbo." "I may be asked to photograph a gay wedding," Miyahara said worriedly. "If I decline to do so based on my religious affiliation as a Christian I may be sued."

Too bad, so sad, crocodile tears for you, sir. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times (and I'll keep saying it as long as necessary!): your right to hold bigoted views about LGBT people cannot and must not be allowed to trump the rights of LGBT people to be treated fairly and equitably in the public square. A person's private religious beliefs cannot entitle them to a special exemption from the law.

A marriage equality law that grants special discrimination rights to homophobic Christian business owners doesn't really provide equality at all. Let's hope Hawaiian lawmakers don't pass this kind of flawed bill, but instead opt for real, full marriage equality.


  • Mother Jones magazine finally admits it was wrong about the LDS Church abandoning its crusade against marriage equality, conceding that the Mormons are fighting marriage in Hawaii. Told ya so.
  • Activist and marriage equality watchdog Fred Karger filed a complaint with the Hawaii Ethics Commission last week after finding evidence that the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage allegedly violated state election laws in their campaign against same-sex marriage rights.
  • The Hawaii House will take public testimony today from proponents and opponents of marriage equality. The hearing begins at 4:00 PM Eastern, 10:00 AM Hawaii time, and you can watch it live here and here. (h/t: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement.)

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