Thursday, October 31, 2013
Relating to Senate Bill 1 Testifying in Support
On Behalf of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i
Aloha Chairs Rhoads and Luke, Vice-Chairs Har, Nishimoto and Johanson, and Members of the House Committees on Judiciary and Finance.
Mahalo for this opportunity to present testimony in strong support of Senate Bill 1 Relating to Equality, which will legally recognize and allow for marriages for same-sex couples. We believe this is a bill that is a long time coming and we want to thank Chairs Rhoads and Luke and the members of the committees for taking the time to hear this historic and incredibly important piece of legislation.
Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i (PDH) assumes everyone has heard the arguments from both supports and opponents of this bill, so we are restricting our testimony to the issue we think will be the fulcrum on which its fate will be decided; the question of the breadth of the religious exemption.
The majority of opponents, including those expressing objection or concern on religious grounds have, for very pragmatic reasons, decided not to oppose the bill on the question of marriage equality itself, but rather on the very thinly veiled question of religious freedom. PDH, however, believes this argument is a red herring which should not derail the march toward equality.
We believe strongly in the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Religious institutions for which same-sex marriage is a violation of their faith shouldn’t be forced to perform those marriages. Lest the guise of “religious discrimination” be seen as a legitimate reason for withholding support for this landmark legislation, we feel the need to point out the protection that has been codified in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 4 of the Hawai‘i State Constitution.
The highest law of the land spells out, in no uncertain terms, that government cannot force a religious institution to do something that violates their beliefs. And though its opponents will attempt to claim otherwise, this bill does not violate their First Amendment rights.
If a religious institution allows its clergy to perform marriages for non-members, if it allows non-members to use its facilities and grounds for marriage ceremonies and celebrations, and does it in exchange for money, it cannot claim protection under the First Amendment, nor Article I, Section 4. That institution is then considered a “public accommodation” and subject to anti-discrimination laws.
Many point to our island state as the place where the same-sex marriage movement began. We believe this is a heritage to be proud of and though, in the nearly two decades since, many states have moved ahead of us on this issue, it is finally time for Hawai‘i to take its place on the right side of this issue and on the right side of history.
Mahalo for your time and consideration.