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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

HB 444 fulfills duty to diversity

By Rev. John Heidel

Hawai'i has an opportunity to lead the nation in providing couples with civil union rights under the proposal now before the state Legislature, demonstrating both our acceptance of diversity in our community and the value we place on the rights of others.

The language of the Senate draft now under consideration in the Legislature leaves no doubt that a civil union is not marriage. Our state constitution gives the Legislature the sole right to define marriage, and the bill is unequivocal in declaring that, "it is not the Legislature's intent to revise the definition or eligibility requirements of marriage." In other words, marriage will still be marriage, reserved for unions of one man and one woman. Civil unions will be a distinct and legally established alternative.

Because this proposal has been the cause of division in our community, particularly within the religious community, The Interfaith Alliance Hawai'i offers this statement as an effort to clarify the issue and heal the division. The local clergy who have signed in agreement believe this is a matter of constitutional rights, not religious doctrine.

Establishing fully defined civil unions in Hawai'i will also finally and firmly answer a question that has divided our community for too long: It will grant same-sex couples the legal rights they have been seeking. At the same time, by extending benefits to opposite-sex couples, the civil unions law will strengthen traditional marriage by removing it from this acrimonious public debate. The unique value of traditional marriage will be absolutely protected.

The current proposal creates a civil union based entirely in the law, and conferring strictly legal rights to couples who opt to enter into a civil union. While other states offer similar unions, Hawai'i's proposed law will be the only one that offers a civil union's legal benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples without further limitations. Other states offering civil union benefits to opposite-sex couples place limitations either on the union or on the rights conferred.

In offering civil unions to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, Hawai'i will demonstrate that civil unions are not a half measure, or a form of "separate but equal" treatment for same-sex couples. Rather, the civil union law creates a new and valuable process for committed couples to enjoy the rights normally provided to married couples, while protecting the sanctity of traditional marriage.

For those of us who observe and celebrate our individual faiths, the religious and ceremonial aspects of marriage may always be paramount. However, for those who wish to enter into an alternative union, Hawai'i will provide a choice, without depriving those committed couples of valuable legal rights. An opposite-sex couple could choose to enter into a civil union for any of a wide array of reasons, some legal, some financial, and some based on personal beliefs. The rest of our community should be ready to accept and respect those choices. Therefore, this proposal would not hinder or influence the personal belief or private practice of anyone's religion.

Diversity has long been a hallmark of our island culture, and respect for that diversity has played a large role in creating the rich, thriving community we love. Hawai'i learned long ago that the resilience of our community rests upon a foundation of acceptance of ideas and practices that differ from our own. It is easy to accept those who are like us; unity comes from respecting those who are different. We can show the rest of our nation the path to greater peace by taking this vital step. In preserving traditional marriage while providing a meaningful alternative, Hawai'i can lead the country on a path away from divisiveness and toward solutions that consider all reasonable concerns.

The time to act on civil unions has come. We have all heard the claims that the Legislature is too busy, or that they should be focused on other, more pressing issues. There is no issue more important than treating each other with respect, particularly those whose opinions differ from our own. If they let this opportunity pass them by, they may find that there is never a perfect time to reopen the discussion of civil unions; there will always be other pressing matters to consider.

The question is before us, the opportunity is ripe, and the solution is ready. We hope our Legislature will act on civil unions now.

Other clergy members who signed Heidel's commentary are:
• Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani, Honpa Hongwanji
• Rabbi Peter Schaktman
• The Rev. Teruo Kawata, United Church of Christ, former Conference Minister of Hawaii UCC
• The Rev. Fritz Fritchel, Lutheran Pastor, ELCA
• The Rev. Sam Cox, United Methodist Church
• The Rev. Elizabeth A. Zivanov, Rector, The Parish of St. Clement (Episcopal)
• The Rev. Jory Watland, Lutheran Pastor, ELCA
• The Rev. Louise Ulrich, 1st Unitarian Church of Honolulu
• The Rev. Wally Fukunaga, United Church of Christ
• The Rev. Pat Hendrickson, Deacon, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles (Kailua)
• The Rev. Deborah M. Ball, United Church of Christ
• The Rev. Michael P. Barham, Associate Rector, The Parish of St. Clement (Episcopal)
• The Rev. Jeff M. Lilley, Pastor, Lutheran Church of Honolulu, ELCA
• The Rev. Kate Lewis, Vicar, Emmanuel Episcopal Church
• The Rev. George Lee, retired, Episcopal Church in Hawaii
• The Rev. Paul Snipes, Disciples of Christ
• The Rev. Brian J. McCreanor, Esq, Disciples of Christ
• The Rev. David Baumgart Turner, United Church of Christ
• The Rev. Alan Urasaki, Honpa Hongwanji
• The Rev. Dan Hatch, United Church of Christ
• The Rev. Paul Lillie, St. Mark's Episcopal Church
• The Rev. Chikai Yosemori, former Bishop of Honpa Hongwanji
• The Rev. Richard Shields, Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii
• The Rev. Carolyn Martinez Golojuch, MSW, Native American Spiritualist
• The Rev. Neal MacPherson, United Church of Christ
• The Rev. Andrew J. Walmisley (Maui)
• The Most Rev. Jack Isbell, Bishop, Ecumenical Catholic Church in Hawaii
• The Rev. Nicholas Eyre, Priest, Ecumenical Catholic Church in Hawaii
• The Rev. Eric Matsumoto, Buddhist