On Monday, a group of interfaith clergy and lay leaders gathered at the foot the Capitol’s Queen Liliuokalani statue to make their case for the equality of same-sex partnerships. Rabbi Peter Schaktman of Temple Emanu-El was first to speak. “What we know is that civil unions, to the chagrin of those whose political or religious ideologies lead them to lobby against this legislation, are unquestionably pro-family, pro-faith and pro-children.”
If he’s right, the families and children of gay couples in Hawaii are running out of time.
The fate of House Bill 444, the Civil Unions bill, will almost certainly be decided this week. Senate Democrats caucused yesterday and the late word is that a motion will be introduced, possibly as soon as today, to pull the languishing bill from the Judiciary Committee and bring it to a full floor vote.
In early February, when the bill cleared the House, there was talk that there were plenty of votes in the Senate to ensure its passage, should it manage to clear Judiciary. When that didn’t happen, word had it that supporters had the nine votes required to approve a motion to pull the bill from committee.
Not anymore. Two Capitol-watchers I spoke to this week said they now expect the bill to die in committee.
At this point, that’s frankly not a surprise. Media attention has all but dried up, and supporters of the bill haven’t been able to muster anything remotely resembling a response to the army of red shirts that descended on the Capitol for the Judiciary hearing.
Q-Mark recently released a poll that indicates clear support for HB 444 statewide, but loud voices tend to prevail in these things. Some friends who attended the recent candlelight vigil in support of civil unions said they were looking for a chance to shout, not pray, if only to answer the roar of the anti-gay lobby.
Senators are going to blame all of this on respect for the committee process. Even if you believe them, don’t forget that they’re valuing Senate rules over equal rights. In the end, it’s much more likely that they’re simply chickening out in the face of a band of screaming zealots.
When I spoke with religion scholar Kathleen Sands a few weeks ago, she made the point that religious people who hope to be taken seriously in cultural debates are obligated to conduct themselves seriously, by which I took her to mean: less screaming, more listening.
Not surprisingly, there wasn’t much yelling going on during Monday’s gathering. Among the last to speak was Yoshi Fujitani, retired bishop of Honpa Hongwanji Mission. “In Buddhism, the ideal is universal compassion. If it’s good for one person, it must be good for another,” he said. “There are many, many Buddhists in the community. Very few will come forward, however I feel I represent their view that equality and justice are of prime importance. This is the issue, and I hope the Senate will side with us.”
Fujitani makes it sound so simple. And you know what? It is. This is not a complicated policy problem—the Constitution demands equal treatment under the law. It’s not even that heated of an argument statewide, if you believe the recent polls. This is one of those clear-cut situations in which theres a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do, and at this writing it sounds like the Legislature is content to do the wrong one.