Thousands of people have signed up to testify for and against marriage equality in hearings that will resume Friday in the Hawaii House. In the meantime, however, some House Republicans are trying to find ways to obstruct or compromise the bill to prevent it from passing.
Some lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Aaron Johanson (R), have proposed a broad religious exemption that would provide small businesses (those with five or fewer employees) a license to discrimination against same-sex couples. Such a provision would spare a photographer, baker, florist, or wedding planner from having to provide services to same-sex couples — unless they’re the only business in a rural area that can provide it. Even if such an amendment is considered in the House, it is not likely to survive consideration by the Senate, which passed the marriage equality bill 20-4 earlier this week.
One opponent of the bill is taking a different approach: he’s suing the state, arguing that the legislature is constitutionally prohibited from passing marriage equality. According to Rep. Bob McDermott (R), when the people of Hawaii voted in 1998 to amend the state constitution so that “the legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples,” they were actually voting to ban same-sex marriage. If the people perceived that’s what they were doing, McDermott argues, then that’s the force of the law.
Because he wants the people to decide, McDermott has also proposed a constitutional amendment removing the 1998 language and explicitly limiting marriage to the unions of one man and one woman. In an ironic twist, this seems to betray the very claim made by his lawsuit. If a new amendment is necessary to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, then that suggests the legislature still has the power to legalize it.
McDermott has previously condemned Hawaii’s civil unions, arguing that same-sex parenting is harmful to children:
MCDERMOTT: Despite the dedicates of the PC police, there is absolutely a difference between the nurturing, love and tenderness that a mom can deliver and that of two men who practice homosexuality. In fact, science tells us that a child cannot be created without a male and female. So why would we ever obligate a child to an artificial situation where they will never ever have a mother or father to speak of? Who speaks for the child? Do they have a choice in the matter?
Imagine for a moment, a loving husband and wife go into to adopt a child, next to them are two men who practice homosexuality. All things being equal, if the Judge says, I think the child would do better with a mom and dad, he is now a bigot. In my view he is exercising common sense.
It seems unlikely that McDermott’s suit will do much to delay the bill. Gov. Neil Abercombie (D) and Attorney General David Louie (D) have argued that the 1998 constitutional amendment simply gave the legislature power to make decisions about same-sex marriage — nothing more. If they have the power to ban it, then they have the power to pass it as well. And, it seems the Hawaii House is prepared to do just that.