View from the Pew
Same-sex foe now advocates civil unions
When the political battle over legalization of same-sex marriage was at its peak 10 years ago, Debi Hartmann was on the field as an opponent. She was active in Hawaii's Future Today, a coalition spearheaded by the Catholic diocese and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to maintain the traditional concept of marriage in state law.
After the dust settled in 1998, a majority of voters had approved a constitutional amendment affirming that the Legislature had the power to limit marriage to a one-man, one-woman union. That year, the state Legislature provided same-gender couples some legal rights when one partner is ill or dies. Proponents have tried unsuccessfully each year since to get lawmakers to expand the "reciprocal benefits" package or to create a separate "civil union" category for same-gender couples.
This year, when the issue was back before the state Legislature, who should appear after a 10-year hiatus from the public arena but Debi Hartmann. This time, in what seemed a 180-degree turn, she testified in favor of expanding "reciprocal benefits" for homosexual couples.
That doesn't mean she has faltered as a staunch member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hartmann told the Interfaith Open Table meeting earlier this month. She said her change of heart was stimulated by her continuing education in political science. After losing a run for the state Senate, the former Board of Education chairwoman earned bachelor's and master's degrees, and now teaches political science at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
"In my church we are required to hold government accountable," she told the group of about 30 people from a dozen different faith traditions gathered March 7 at Temple Emanu-El. "God holds men accountable for the actions of government. In the LDS Church we are free to speak our position on issues."
Neither the LDS Church nor Hartmann has changed in belief that "marriage between man and woman is defined in scriptures ... where you also find man and many women. I do not ask my church to change; that is not my place."
Her religion upholds the ideal of justice being equal for all, she said, and that's not happening for the families of same-gender partners. "For me, it is a new path of child advocacy." Her "homework" identified 60 laws, mostly covering family law and children in court, where "I found that children don't receive the same basic protection because their parents are in a same-gender relationship. The child is emotionally battered. The quick and easy way would be to revisit the civil-union concept."
"I love being a truth seeker," Hartmann told the interfaith audience, which applauded her for her evolution in viewpoint. But that's not necessarily the reaction of her co-religionists.
"People have approached our religious leaders to ask whether I should be excommunicated. (Leaders) have told me I am a member in good standing and have not violated the standards of the church," she said.