With the legislative session half over, Hawaii’s civil unions bill, HB444 HD1,Â is still stuck in the Senate Judiciary Commitee, where a 3-3 split vote prevented the bill from moving to the floor. All that is needed is for 9 of the 25 sentators to vote to pull the bill from committee, but the pressure from the opposition seems to be weakening support. A move toward “compromise” has angered supporters, who believe that now is the time to grant same-sex couples all the rights, benefits and responsibilities afforded heterosexual spouses.
To reinforce the message that people across the islands believe in equality, Unite Here Local 5 hosted a press conference on March 18 showcasing community leaders in favor of civil unions. The group of leaders, which included native Hawaiians, civil rights advocates from the Japanese, Filipino, African-American communities, and labor leaders, issued the following joint statement:
In 1998, Hawaiâ€˜i voted to grant our state legislators â€œthe power to reserve marriage to opposite sex couples.â€ However, this did not obviate the Legislatureâ€™s obligation under the constitution to provide equal protection to all of Hawaiâ€˜iâ€™s citizens.
Now, more than a decade later, you have before you an historic opportunity to extend equality to same-sex couples and their families. HB 444 HD1 has already passed the House with overwhelming support. It is now up to you.
As leaders of diverse communities across the islands, we call on you to bring the Civil Unions bill to the floor for passage. We believe:
â€¢ This is a civil rights issue. Married couples in Hawaiâ€˜i, and their children, have access to an extensive package of rights, benefits, and responsibilities. Same-sex couples have very limited access to these same rights and benefits, though they fully participate in our communities, pay taxes, support their children, care for their elders and carry out all the same obligations as other families in our communities. Civil unions would provide equality under State law, as guaranteed by the Hawaiâ€˜i State Constitution.
â€¢ This is an issue of economic justice. In these times of extreme economic vulnerability for all of Hawaiâ€˜iâ€™s families, civil unions would provide greater economic stability for families currently excluded from the Stateâ€™s marriage laws. As an example, same-sex couples are unable to benefit from joint tax filings and must spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on legal documents, only to obtain a small fraction of the protections afforded to married couples. Civil unions would provide equal and fair treatment for all of Hawaiâ€˜iâ€™s families.
â€¢ This is about â€˜ohana. Across our islands, our most important deeply held values are about â€˜ohana and malama, supporting and caring for our families and communities. We have always accepted and embraced all members of our families, from keiki to kupuna, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression. We must stop the discrimination and instead offer respect, love, and equality under the law.
We call on you to uphold Hawaiâ€˜iâ€™s constitution, to support equality and economic justice, and to strengthen all of Hawaiâ€˜iâ€™s â€˜ohana by enacting civil union legislation now.
Dr. Amy Agbayani, Co-Chair, Friends of Civil Rights and Filipinos for Affirmative Action
Shawn Benton, President, Japanese American Citizens League â€“ Honolulu Chapter
Alphonso Braggs, President, Honolulu â€“ Hawaiâ€˜i NAACP
Puanani Burgess, Principle, One Peace-At-A-Time
Eric Gill, Financial Secretary-Treasurer, UNITE HERE Local 5
Debi Hartmann, Former Chair, Hawaiâ€˜i State Board of Education
Lynette Hiâ€˜ilani Cruz, Professor of Anthropology; President, Ka Lei Maile Aliâ€˜i Hawaiian Civic Club
Faye Kennedy, Co-Chair, Hawaiâ€˜i Friends of Civil Rights
Poka Laenui, Director, Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs
Brien Matson, President, Musiciansâ€™ Association of Hawaiâ€˜i, Local 677
James Nakapaâ€˜ahu, Representative, Hui o Na Ike, alternative media for alternative voices
Wayne Kahoâ€˜onei Panoke, Executive Director, â€˜Ilioâ€˜ulaokalani Coalition
Vicky Holt Takamine, Executive Director, PAâ€˜I Foundation
Allicyn Tasaka & Debbie Shimizu, Co-Chairs, Hawaiâ€˜i State Democratic Womenâ€™s Caucus