The crowd erupted, those in white cheering and singing. Those dressed in rainbow, shouting at the governor’s closed chamber doors.
“Shame, shame, shame!” yelled one proponent of the civil unions bill.
Just steps away, opponents cheered, “Thank God!”
It was an emotional ending to a long day that started with high energy on both sides of the issue.
Many supporters of the bill responded solemnly, some with anger, some shouting. Laura Belding, 38, and her partner Stan Schofield, 53, had planned to apply for a civil union license immediately after the announcement. Instead, the two women slowly packed up their bags, knowing they could not get their civil union this week.
“I’ve just been classified as a second-class citizen in a state that I love,” said a “completely devastated” Belding.
“My heart is broken…. I wanted her to be my family,” said Schofield, gesturing to Belding. “Civil unions would have allowed us to be family. We’ve been together for five years.”
Outside the governor’s chambers Hector Hoyos was one of the bill supporters who yelled at the governor’s chamber doors. It was depressing to think about sharing the news with Hoyos’s partner of seven years, said Hoyos.
“Today was a blow. It was a big blow,” Hoyos said afterwards through tears. “Now I’m in for the fight, and I’m just getting louder.”
Opponents of the measure responded with singing, cheering and prayers. Susan Chung, a 62-year-old retired teacher was one who said, “Praise the Lord.”
“I’m a school teacher, and I know in my heart that gay marriage is not of God,” she said. “I teach children who come from gay families, and it’s heartbreaking for the children…. I’m not against gays, lesbians or transgendered people. I love them. He died for them, too. This is a great day of victory.”
Few showed up who were somewhere between the two extremes. One of them was Jo Turner, a 39-year-old disabled veteran who attends the church Word of Life and showed up “on a whim.”
“I’d love to let everybody know that God is love,” said Turner, donning a green shirt and hanging out next to some of the bill’s supporters outside the governor’s chambers. She says she believes that sex before marriage is wrong and that the Bible doesn’t talk about marriage between members of the same sex. But today she believed her job was to give out free hugs to some of the most distraught after the governor’s decision came down. “Salvation is for Hawaii.”
The reactions were the end note to a day full of hope and anticipation on both sides. Supporters of HB 444 took the Capitol’s front lawn as their home base, setting up large speakers and pulling up coolers filled with water.
Diana Kim, 25, came not only for herself but for her girlfriend, a long-time supporter of civil unions. Kim brought her white Macbook, pointing the computer’s camera toward the rally, so that her girlfriend could watch the events unfold.
“I know I’m here, but it’s really for her,” said Kim, referring to her girlfriend who was away on a vacation to St. Louis, Missouri. “For me, if it passes, it means Hawaii has collectively come to an acceptance…. We’re supposed to be a diverse melting pot.”
Most of the opponents gathered on the ground floor on the opposite end of the Capitol and on the fifth floor, outside of the executive chambers.
“We’re just here to stand for the traditional definition of marriage — between one man and one woman,” said Dennis Arakaki, the spokesperson for Hawaii Family Forum. “All the arguments have been made. All the facts have been given. We’re just hoping for the wisdom and the courage for the governor to make the right decision.”
Many of the supporters represented a handful of churches, such as King’s Cathedral, which sent roughly 100 from their first assembly of God congregation. A significant showing also came from a group of Korean churches. Samuel Kim, the pastor of Korean Christian Church, was at the Capitol with his three children and several other church members to support a veto. Many of his members sat outside the governor’s doors with mats, sometimes with one hand placed on the chamber’s wall and with eyes closed.
“As a parent, I want to do my responsibility to make sure there is good government for my children,” said 36-year-old Kim. “If any gay person wants to come to church, that’s fine. I love them as individuals. But if they want to enforce what they believe on my children, I will do everything I can to stop it.”
Another opponent said she believed that passing the civil unions bill would eventually mean that churches would have to accept a non-Biblical definition of marriage.
“It’s going to affect our churches,” said Christine Nakama, a 63-year-old housewife who came with her 67-year-old husband Stanley Nakama. “They’re not going to force our pastors to marry against our beliefs.”
The day started with the two groups literally polarized in the Capitol. While supporters gathered for a rally on the mauka side of the Capitol at about 11:15 in the morning, opponents trickled in and prayed on the makai side. The groups stayed separate, in part because of security. On a few occasions, the most extreme elements of each wandered over with large signs and shoving started. Guards broke them up and pushed them to their separate sides.
Supporters gathered with noise and with color. On the the mauka side, beneath a state seal, about 80 supporters, representing about a dozen organizations, demonstrated in favor of HB 444, waving rainbow flags and neon-colored signs with slogans like “Stop Oppression!” Cars drove by showing support with claps on the horn or long, drawn out pulls of the horn and flashed shakas outside the window. Two loudspeakers blasted tunes like “I Will Survive” and “Sexy Back.” Everywhere there are rainbows.
They make a familiar cry. “What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“We are here today to show the Governor and the people of Hawaii that there is widespread support for equality,” said Alan Spector, the legislative co-chair for Equality Hawaii.
Their cries echoed cross the capitol’s rotunda to the other side, where a group of roughly 100, quietly stood in a circle.
There, opponents of the bill, by contrast, spoke quietly with no microphone and no loudspeakers, dressed in white. As HB 444’s rally started, opponents gathered in a circle and prayed, periodically singing a capella hymns.
“We pray for a decision that is favorable. We pray for Linda Lingle,” they said. “Whatever decision that comes out from the governor, we pray that it will be for Your will.”
“That’s the purpose of this gathering: to pray,” said Marjorie Tam, a 63-year-old retired educator. “The governor is faced with a very big decision. So we just pray a blessing on her.”
The rainbow crowd chanted, “Linda Lingle, pass the bill!” The side in white quietly lifted their hands toward the governor’s 5th floor office, each person speaking one at a time. Then in one voice, they said, “Amen!”
Share your thoughts on the governor’s decision today in our civil unions discussion.