Why The Hawaiian Citizens’ Filibuster Against Marriage Equality Accomplishes Nothing


Policeman Tenari Maafala speaking at New Hope Oahu church.

Policeman Tenari Maafala speaking at New Hope Oahu church.

CREDIT: Youtube.

Exactly 5,184 people — mostly conservative Christian opponents of same-sex marriage — signed up to testify before the Hawaii House of Representatives as it considers marriage equality legislation. If every person were to testify — which they haven’t — and were to use their full two minutes, it would take about 172 hours to hear everybody, which is just longer than a full 24/7 week. Tuesday will be the fifth day of constant testimony they hear. When it’s all over, lawmakers will finally hold their own debate, and then they’ll vote and likely pass the bill.

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. At the very least, they want to delay the vote until Thursday so it coincides with a big rally they’re planning, which will allow them to “flood the house chambers” for the bill’s final reading. In fact, they even have tried to cheat the system, encouraging people to substitute in for others to keep wasting time. Here’s how the Hawai’i Christian Coalition instructed supporters to cheat this weekend, explicitly explaining that the goal is “to waste time”:

PLEASE make the final pitch! Anyone who submitted testimony and who received a number MUST SHOW UP ON MONDAY TO TESTIFY! If they cannot make it, please find someone to show up on that person’s “behalf.” So for example, if John Doe has a number but cannot testify because he’s at work, he has Jane Smith show up on his behalf and read his testimony. Jane is NOT REPLACING John’s testimony with her own but is reading his testimony to the group in order to waste time! If you organize people from your churches who can stay at the capitol all day and “read testimony” on behalf of others, that may be a start.

That same message was promoted by other religious leaders, like New Hope Metro’s Senior Pastor Elwin Ahu. Lawmakers caught onto this scheme and now require those who testify to present photo identification — no substitutes allowed.

House Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads told Civil Beat, “There has never been a bill in the history of Hawaii that has had a hearing this long.” But all of that testimony could very well expose how poor the arguments against marriage equality actually are. Lawmakers in several states that heard anti-gay testimony informed ThinkProgress that the messaging did nothing to change lawmakers’ minds.

And the arguments being heard reveal a lot of base prejudice. Several hundred people simply signed a canned statement claiming that the special session “rushes the legislative process,” a statement that ignores the fact that Hawaii has faced the question of same-sex marriage longer than any other state. Others have resorted to calling SB 1 “Stupid Bill No. 1.” One notable piece of testimony came from Tenari Maafala, the head of Hawaii’s police union. He told lawmakers, “You would have to kill me,” before he would consider enforcing a marriage equality law.

Watch Maafala answer questions from Rep. Bob McDermott (R), who is suing to prevent the legislature from passing the bill:

As the epic hearing continues into day five, lawmakers will be subjected to more of these hackneyed talking points, but peppered throughout will be actual gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and their families. From students who started their high school’s gay-straight alliance to couples who’ve been together for years and just want to access federal benefits, the true importance of marriage equality will still be heard.