“You would have to kill me.” Any way you slice it, it’s a dramatic, provocative statement.

So it’s easy to see why those six words — spoken by police union President Tenari Maafala during marathon hearings on same-sex marriage — resonated with Civil Beat reporter Nathan Eagle. Maafala is a high-profile member of the local community so Nathan’s ears perked up when the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers’ president suggested that he would rather die than support the right to same-sex marriage.

When Nathan posted Maafala’s comments on Civil Beat’s Capitol Watch blog, he was the first — and for a long time — only journalist to highlight Maafala’s attention-grabbing testimony. The police union leader’s words were, it is worth remembering, buried amid more than 50 hours of mind-numbing repetitive testimony we addressed in our Off the Beat column entitled, “The BS in the SB1 Debate.”

Part of my job is to pick and choose which stories to post on social media. I don’t always post our blog updates on Facebook (they tend to be more Twitter-friendly affair), but this was a particularly unique nugget of information so I posted it on our Facebook page. It has spurred a remarkable level of engagement. As of Tuesday afternoon, the post sparked about 500 comments on our blog and Facebook page — most lamenting the shocking remark, some calling for the union leader’s resignation, and a few offering him respect for standing up for his beliefs. On both of those platforms, along with that of our partners at HuffPost Hawaii, it has been shared online more than 1,000 times. On Civil Beat’s website alone it has reached 33,000 online eyeballs, and counting.

The comments have drawn remarkably little public reaction from Hawaii’s leaders. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who received strong support from SHOPO during his run for office, refused to comment on Maafala’s statements when contacted by Civil Beat. His spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said the mayor is referring people to the prepared remarks of Louis Kealoha, the police chief.

In those remarks, reported as part of a follow-up article by our reporter and regular columnist Chad Blair, Kealoha said, “The Honolulu Police Department does not have a position on same sex marriage, nor does the department consider this a law enforcement issue. Like other citizens, HPD employees are free to express their personal opinions as private individuals. When it comes to serving the public, officers are sworn to protect and serve every member of the public and to treat everyone with respect and fairness. Officers who do not adhere to this standard are subject to investigation.”

Kealoha was reacting to comments from a police officer, a gay man, who is asking the Honolulu Police Department to distance itself from Maafala’s words.

Diverse national media, including an array of major gay-focused publications, have picked up our original story. The burgeoning national interest focus on Maafala’s comments are, in many ways, natural. There is broad interest in gay marriage and other equality issues at the moment, with Hawaii’s special session and Illinois Legislature on Tuesday cleared the way for Barack Obama’s other home state to recognize gay marriage. Yes, Obama’s two states are both vying to become the 15th state with gay marriages.

Here are a number of links and quotes:

ThinkProgress.org also calls into question the delay tactic that anti-same-sex marriage residents have used to slow Senate Bill 1.

This raises the question: what is the point of this so-called “citizens’ filibuster”? Though some House Republicans are trying to use lawsuits or amendments to compromise the marriage bill, Hawaii conservatives writ large seem to believe using all this testimony to delay the bill will somehow weaken its chances of passing. – ThinkProgress.org

Additionally, the political website Opposing Views expressed confusion over exactly what Maafala was suggesting in his sometimes rambling testimony when he called on homosexuals to offer a constructive alternative.

It wasn’t clear from Maafala’s testimony what he meant by his call to allow the LGBT community to “put something on the table,” since the bill would allow LGBT people to legally marry same-sex partners in Hawaii. – Opposing Views

The New York Times made clear prior to Maafala’s comments that it was paying attention to Hawaii’s gay marriage debate.

As the debate over gay marriage continues, and while it remains unclear what the final legislation will look like, it is clear that Maafala’s words echo beyond the basement chambers of our state Capitol. Our debate is reaching beyond the ears of Nathan Eagle, Karl Rhoads, the gay couples who hope to marry and the church faithful at the hearings. They echo across the country.

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