I spent all evening yesterday listening to testimony for and against HB908 — the Civil Unions Bill. There seemed to be way more testimony in favor than against, both in person and written. You wouldn’t have known that from the Honolulu Advertiser article about it today though, which presented both sides equally (fair and balanced, right?). Virtually all the testimony against was made by fundamentalist Christians (Catholics mostly) who described homosexual unions as depraved and against nature. Their arguments were so archaic and bigoted that i don’t see how any legislator with an open mind could take them seriously. The story of Sodom & Gomorrah was brought up several times. Why a religious argument is even relevant in a secular government, is beyond me. On the other side, there were arguments from several different perspectives – gay, straight, civil rights, children’s rights, economic, etc. Most were quite logical and many were very moving. I think it would be very interesting to see a side-by-side comparison of the arguments made for and against this bill, perhaps one of the people who was taking notes on the testimony would be able to produce one. In my mind, this should be a straight forward issue. Now that the “marriage” word is removed and no one is seeking to get same gendered couples wed in a church, the religious arguments should hold no ground. The HA article mentions:
Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey recognize civil unions, while Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriage. But Hawai’i does allow couples to register with the state as reciprocal beneficiaries and receive many of the rights and benefits of married couples.
Yeah, they can register as reciprocal beneficiaries (RB)… but what does that really do? It provides piecemeal access to certain rights, each of which has to be fought for separately. So far, most of the rights granted by RB have to do with sickness and dying, which are important ones, but as was pointed out multiple times in testimony last night RB provides zero provisions regarding children’s rights. A lesbian couple told their story about their four children. Two of the children were the from a previous heterosexual relationship of one partner and the other two were from a previous homosexual relationship of the other partner. Two were eligible to receive child support and the other two weren’t. You guess which one is which. This type of mixed families happen all the time in “normal” marriage between a man and a woman, yet there are no provisions in the law to provide for children with two mommies or two daddies. Yet they exist. We cannot just pretend they don’t and hope they go away.
I was there for the duration, which cannot be said for the majority of the committee members. There was over 5 hours of testimony. With testimony finally over, the members of the committee came trickling back into the room. The chair (Waters) called for a short recess before the vote. They talked amongst themselves. I was anxious to hear the vote as were several other people still in the room after all that time. When the chair called the meeting back to order he announced that they would be deferring the bill, essentially killing it for the session. No vote was taken. The story we were told was that the bill would have been voted down anyway.
I serve on my local neighborhood board, so watching these proceedings made me think about how they compare to our public meetings. According to the sunshine law, we are not allowed to do anything unless we have a quorum of 50% of the members. We can’t even listen to the reports from the fire and police departments. Members of the public, who took time to show up, cannot present their concerns to the board and the elected officials who often also take time to show up. Yet, in the House of Representatives, testimony can be presented to a small percentage of the committee sometimes only the Chair or Vice-Chair running the meeting. What are the rest of them doing in the meantime? Are we supposed to believe that they are really listening in from their offices? Or are they wheeling and dealing behind the scenes? How is the public supposed to know? Isn’t that what the sunshine law is all about? Or is it just to cripple the volunteer neighborhood boards?