On Tuesday, Nov. 12, the state Senate voted again on SB1, the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The vote was 19-4 with two excused, which came as no surprise given that Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee had predicted an easy passage the week before. On the morning of Nov. 13, Governor Neil Abercrombie–who had called the Legislature into Special Session to deal with this very bill–finally signed the bill into law. That means same-sex marriages can legally begin in the State of Hawaii starting on Dec. 2 of this year.
After historically long and contentious testimony and debate, the state House of Representatives had finally approved the bill in the late hours of Friday, Nov. 8, though in a slightly amended form from that which passed the Senate. The final vote in the House on the bill was 30-19, with two members excused from voting.
Two of the 19 House votes against SB1 came from Maui Democrats–Mele Carroll of East Maui, Lanai and Molokai and Justin Woodson of Kahului. Of the two, Woodson’s hapless, confused post-vote statement sent to the press is actually easier to excuse.
“I strongly support affording federal rights to everyone however we should do so in a way which does not legislate any religious document,” he said in a Nov. 8 press release sent out just minutes after the House took its final vote. “However, I respect the decision of the House body.”
The statement is just 32 words long, but still manages to use “however” twice. It’s quite remarkable actually to see Woodson bend two sentences into pretzels in hopes of placating all sides in the contentious battle over whether Hawaii should continue to discriminate against homosexuals.
Remember, Woodson’s new. In fact, he’s never run in an election before (he owes his seat to Abercrombie, who appointed him back in January). Eventually, he’ll learn that voting means choosing a side.
Far more slippery are the justifications offered by Carroll (who once employed Woodson as a legislative aide). I’ve long known that Carroll has contempt for the state laws governing campaign contributions, but I had no idea she felt the same way about Hawaiian history.
It was quite a performance she gave on Nov. 8. There she stood in the House chamber for 15 minutes (though she kept running over her allotted time, other members graciously yielded their remaining minutes to her) simultaneously decrying “the process” that pitted so many residents against each other while demonizing those who didn’t agree with her as enemies of Aloha.
“I support equality for all people,” she said not long after telling her colleagues that she’d vote against the bill. “[But] if we do Special Session, I hope we can work on issues that do matter in all of our districts, that we can all benefit from.”
Oh, I’m sorry, Representative Carroll–was SB1 just too controversial for you? Too bad you had to waste your time on a bill that didn’t right the wrongs inflicted on a minority closer to your heart. But since you said that you support equality, I guess that will make things good with those you just voted to remain unequal.
But it was how Carroll twisted Hawaiian history that got to me.
“How would you feel if someone came into your hale and robbed you of your culture and lifestyle?” she asked rhetorically of those who would dare–dare!–to give same-sex couples the same marriage rights as those enjoyed by heterosexuals. She went onto rhetorically compare guaranteeing marriage rights to same-sex couples to the diseases that ravaged Hawaiians in century after Western contact.
In Carroll’s world, Christianity is part of kanaka maoli “culture.” Given the considerable and highly emotional testimony given by those in opposition to SB1 during the House hearings, it’s clear Carroll is far from the only one in this state who believes such a thing. Thankfully, I’m also not the only one who sees it as nonsense.
“Kanaka Maoli have been conditioned for so long to think and act like foreigners that we have allowed the meaning and intent of our words, traditions and philosophies to be replaced by neo-Christian beliefs and used to further a Western political agenda on our islands,” wrote Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu–the Halau Lokahi Public Charter School cultural director–in an Oct. 30 Honolulu Star-Advertiser op-ed.
Wong-Kalu lays out kanaka maoli treatment of same-sex issues with gentle clarity. Her op-ed is worth quoting in some detail on this:
“In pre-contact times, ohana was far more extensive than the Western nuclear family,” she wrote. “They included kupuna and their siblings and cousins, makua and their siblings and cousins, children and grandchildren and all other cousins and distant and hanai relations. Our people lived in a format employing kauhale, where multigenerational and latitudinal families gathered together. Western missionaries thought us barbaric and labeled us heathens, but our extended families took care of the whole ohana. Our people also embraced mahu (those who embody both kane and wahine ability, insight, feeling and spirit all rolled up into one body), aikane (those involved with intimate relations of the same sex), punalua (those men and women who had multiple partners of the opposite sex), and, of course, poolua children (a child with more than one father figure and the ability to claim more than one genealogy). Such people and relationships were not just ‘tolerated,’ as in the current neo-Christian dogma, they were an intrinsic part of the social fabric.”
For those who would deny this–who would cynically twist Hawaiian history in a justification for narrow-minded political gain–Wong-Kalu pulled no punches.
“Wake up, kanaka maoli!” she wrote. “If you support the Westernized Christian view of marriage, then so be it–but please don’t pretend that your choice has anything to do with Hawaiian thought or values. You have joined the ranks of the ones without a culture, without a language and without a soul, those our ancestors called haole… You would relegate our people to nothing but mere shells along the seashore, damaged by those who trample upon their fragile beauty because they want to walk in paradise.”
Photo: Sean M. Hower