State Sen. Mike Gabbard had the “interesting” experience Monday, as he put it, of being referred to as both a religious extremist and a Christian apostate in a committee hearing.
That’s because Gabbard, perhaps the most visible local opponent of gay civil rights over the past 20 years, supports two Senate resolutions that call for a task force to study the social, economic and religious impacts that enacting “marriage equality” would have in Hawaii.
The resolutions (which are identical; a concurrent resolution requires adoption by both chambers) are opposed by some gay rights activists who say the resolutions are just a stalling tactic because Hawaii lawmakers elected not to hear gay marriage bills this year.
They are also opposed by some religious groups that say the task force appears predisposed to recommend gay marriage, something their faith forbids.
But Gabbard, a Catholic inspired by Hindu teachings (his daughter is the first Hindu American to serve in the U.S. Congress) and a former Republican who is now a Democrat, accepted Judiciary and Labor Chairman Clayton Hee‘s request for him to co-sponsor SR 123 and SCR 166.
He said he did so because he wanted to break through the “contentious, divisive” arguments surrounding gay marriage.
“I want this to be fair,” Gabbard said of the task force study, which would be conducted by the University of Hawaii law school.
Hee, who guided Hawaii’s civil unions law through the legislature in 2011, said he greatly appreciated Gabbard’s help on the resolutions in spite of their fundamental disagreements over the contentious issue.
The Judiciary and Labor hearing was held one day before the U.S. Supreme court begins to hear two cases — on the Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban in California and on the federal Defense of Marriage Act — that could have an historic impact on the gay marriage movement.
Lois Perrin, an attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii and a founding member of Hawaii United for Marriage, noted in her testimony that the resolutions instruct the task force to examine the impact of decisions of the high court, which is expected to issue its rulings in June. The rulings will also likely impact Jackson vs. Abercrombie, a lawsuit pending before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that challenges Hawaii’s 1998 ban on same-sex marriage.
If approved by the Legislature, the task force members would include two members of the legal community, two from business (including a tourism representative), a current or former clergy member and a member of a prominent marriage equality advocacy group. The Senate President and the Speaker of the House (or their designees) would also be members, as well as a UH economics professor who will study the impact of same-sex marriage on government and the economy.
Monday’s hearing brought out familiar faces and views on both sides of the gay marriage issue.
Carolyn Golojuch of PFLAG-Oahu (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) said the resolutions were “stalling measures” because the Hawaii Legislature does not want to hear gay marriage proposals. She said plenty of studies have already been done on gay marriage.
Urging them to hear gay marriage legislation, Golojuch told the committee, “Do what’s right, what’s written in the Constitution and what’s written in your hearts.”
Golojuch found herself in the unusual position of opposing the same measures (though for different reasons) as Walter Yoshimitsu, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference, and Eva Andrade, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum.
“The whole resolution is based on the faulty premise that same-sex marriage is a done deal,” Yoshimitsu said in his written testimony. “We strongly disagree. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between one man and one woman is a sacrament. This is consistent with biology and natural law, and should be obvious to all, no matter what their religion or culture.”
Andrade had similar arguments, as well as others.
“This task force ultimately is going to recommend same-sex marriage,” she said. “We’ve been down this road before.”
Nonetheless, Andrade asked Hee that the views of the Hawaii Family Forum be represented on the task force.
Sen. Sam Slom, the lone Republican in the Senate, took exception to the notion that those who oppose same-sex marriage (like Slom and Gabbard) are “extremists,” something Slom said was suggested by the testimony of Rev. Jonipher Kupono Kwong of First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, who supports gay marriage.
Slom also noted the irony that he and Golojuch were in agreement on something — that a new study would be a waste of taxpayer money.
There was no irony in the testimony of a man identifying himself only by his last name, Strider.
Wearing the headband and leather vest he always wears (it reads “Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior”) when testifying on social issues at the Capitol, Strider called for the senators to “immediately cease and desist.”
“No faithful clergy and religious institution should ever have to be placed to violate their religious beliefs as afforded by the First Amendment and God almighty,” he said. “I am one saved by the grace of God. … this (the Senate resolution) is totally contrary to the word of God. … It’s an apostasy. There are heretics … no true Christian will support this bill.”
(Strider was not the only person at the hearing to confuse a bill — which has the force of law — with a resolution — which does not.)
Strider went on to connect homosexuals with sexually transmitted diseases and abuse of health insurance benefits, to argue that homosexuality is “a deviant perversion” and to cite Romans 1:32.1 Several audience members groaned; community activist Shannon Wood put a hand to her face and shook her head in disbelief.
“Folks, you have been fooled by Satan,” said Strider, who then turned to Gabbard and said directly, “Mike, I am very disappointed in you in sponsoring this bill.”
Strider concluded by telling the committee, “The end is near. … Come into the light and repent.”
Then it was time for decision making on the resolutions. Slom voted “no;” Hee, Gabbard and Maile Shiabukuro voted “aye;” and Les Ihara, a major supporter of gay civil rights, voted “aye” with reservations and uttered not a single word during the hearing.
The Hawaii House of Representatives introduced a similar resolution this session, which did not get a hearing. But the fact that the House measure is sponsored by several members of the Democratic leadership means that the Senate version might receive a favorable reception.