Civil unions will work in Hawaii, as elsewhere
THIS session the Legislature has the opportunity to enact a bill recognizing civil unions in Hawaii. There are many reasons this should be done now.
To look at the history of the issue, it was determined more than 10 years ago that same-sex couples exist in Hawaii; same-sex couples have families, including children; same-sex parents do at least as well as conventional parents in raising families; the state of Hawaii has no overriding interest in denying rights to same-sex couples; the Legislature can limit marriage specifically by enacted law (decided by 30 percent of registered voters in a constitutional amendment); and that the state has the responsibility to provide equal rights to same-sex couples. These things already have been determined.
The Legislature set up reciprocal beneficiary as a tentative step to respond to the courts. RB however, does not address the rights and responsibilities that same-sex couples should be provided by law and does nothing to provide for protection of families. RB also is open to relatives, such as an auntie and niece, or grandmother and grandson, to provide for certain situations of interdependence.
Civil unions would not be open to relatives. Any legally recognized union must also provide for dissolution of the union, similar to divorce, to fully protect both partners to the union and the children of that union. This is something that RB cannot and was never intended to do.
California, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other parts of the country have already handled this issue. Rhode Island is in the final steps. Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Luxemburg, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, Israel, Colombia, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany, Andorra, France and others have established civil unions or even marriage on the civil level (churches not required to participate), with no negative developments as a result. In the United States, such action can be done only at the state level, and currently has no effect on the more than 1,000 identified rights and responsibilities at the federal level, but can affect the excess of 400 such rights at the state level.
In areas that have enacted such legislation, opposition to the concept largely disappeared within one year. And, as said by Jamie Raskin, a Maryland professor of constitutional law in response to Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Md.), "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
Hawaii now has a unique opportunity. Debi Hartmann and Bill Woods-Bateman, who were opponents in the amendment fight in 1997 and 1998, are now working as allies to support the civil union bills in the Hawaii Legislature. Both of the major daily newspapers have endorsed the effort. The vast majority of both the House and the Senate have indicated their support. This is the year for action, when election campaigns are not in swing.
Bill and I have a home in upper Kalihi. We have both served on our neighborhood board (Bill as chairman for at least two terms) and are active in our community. As a parent of two sons, and eventually a grandfather, I want Hawaii to recognize our relationship now, for my family.
Lance Bateman lives in Kalihi.