A Brave Move By The Legislature
Wednesday - May 05, 2010
There is a reason I don’t knock politics or politicians. I sometimes criticize them, and I’m often disappointed and constantly fight the temptation to fall victim to the cynicism that infects our modern psyche. I know there are many people, too many, who dismiss all politicians as hacks.
But every now and then something happens that restores my faith in the men and women who are elected to public office. Sometimes they get it right.
Right now, for me, it’s that our lawmakers - 18 state senators and 31 representatives - had the political courage to do something shocking: pass a bill that legalizes same sex (and certain heterosexual) civil unions. This will finally give gay partners in Hawaii the same legal rights as married couples.
It’s about time.
State Rep. Blake Oshiro, House majority leader, brought the measure back to the floor on the final day of the legislative session. He did so knowing it was a long shot:
“Going into the morning,” he says, “I didn’t know what the vote would be like.”
Oshiro says when the members went into caucus, “We had an honest and frank discussion. At the end of day it had the support because we decided it’s the right time.”
The right time because they realized they had a precious second chance. The issue was thought to be dead, killed by Oshiro himself and his House colleagues in January. Back then they didn’t believe they had the support. So although the Senate had already passed the bill, House members, by voice vote, tabled the measure, much to the joy of its opponents. Supporters of the bill cried foul, demanding in vain that lawmakers stand up and put their votes on record. It did not happen, and I was among those who saw their action as cowardly and disappointing.
It seems we weren’t the only ones. Lawmakers themselves have had time to reevaluate. Many have concluded they came up short in the eyes of many of their constituents, and short of their own ideals.
Oshiro says January was a test, a watershed: “If January hadn’t happened, I think that this time people just would have been really scared. Having been through that painful process, we were hearing people say they want their representatives to do their job. That’s what came through. At the end of the day we get paid to make the difficult decisions.”
So given a second chance, lawmakers took a collective breath - and jumped.
“I think we came to the realization that when it comes to controversial issues like this, democracy demands that people stand up,” Oshiro says. “We can’t hide and try to shy away from the hard decisions. We don’t get paid just to do what everyone is in favor of.”
It should surprise no one that almost immediately afterward, the debate began anew - as loud and contentious as it has ever been. Opponents say giving civil union partners equal rights is the first step toward allowing gays to marry.
So what’s wrong with that? Why should a select group be denied the opportunities and protections most citizens take for granted? Gays and lesbians should be able to get married (and divorced) just like the rest of us.
For those who contend this bill infringes on their freedom of religion, I am amazed at this argument. No one is stopping anyone from practicing their faith. I would, however, prefer that religion not be used as a reason to treat some Americans as second-class citizens purely on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The fate of the bill rests with the governor. She had not, throughout the legislative session, taken a stand for or against civil unions. She did say she didn’t want lawmakers to tackle the issue this year, but focus on the budget. Oshiro isn’t sure whether she’ll allow the bill to become law, or veto it.
“The only statement on this issue was she didn’t want us to be distracted by this. We did as she asked, we concentrated on the budget. We balanced it. I thought this was the right time to bring the issue back up.”
If she vetoes it, Oshiro sees few or no options - they do not have the votes to override. But, he says, “Next time around these members will be willing to stand up and support the bill.”
This was not a purely partisan issue. Two Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Cynthia Thielen and Barbara Marumoto. I congratulate them and all the Democrats who took a stand.
And make no mistake, this is huge. They are about to find out whether their dedication to equal rights will be rewarded or punished. Every House member who voted for the bill and many of the senators are up for reelection. But it’s a risk they were courageous enough to take, and I am proud of them for it. As Oshiro says, it’s not about marriage.
It’s about equality.
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