Joe Melillo, left, and Pat Lagon in their screen-printing workshop.
Photos by Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

And now, the trial...

'We're just like any other family:
We go to work, go home, eat dinner, go to bed,
and do it again the next day'

With the same-sex marriage debate coming to an inconclusive end at the state Legislature, eyes now turn to Circuit Judge Kevin Chang's courtroom, where three homosexual couples on Sept. 10 will continue their pursuit of state marriage licenses.

How do the couples view the firestorm they have caused, and how have they fared since suing the state in May 1991? The Star-Bulletin spoke with two of them recently; the third couple, Oahu residents Tammy Rodrigues and Antoinette Pregil, has declined interviews. We also profile Rick Eichor, the deputy attorney general who is new to the case and who will try to show that the government has a compelling interest in restricting marriage to heterosexuals.

By Alan Matsuoka

It's a Thursday afternoon and things are a bit hectic for Pat Lagon and Joseph Melillo, owners of Screen Arts Ink.

Their T-shirt printing company, housed in an Aiea warehouse behind Cutter Ford, is downsizing and moving to smaller quarters in the building. Boxes are stacked everywhere and leave only narrow corridors to walk through. Tank tops and baseball caps are strewn about, the remnants of a weekend clearance sale. A computer, in the meantime, is balking and refusing to print out some new artwork.

Lagon, 39, and Melillo, 48, are two men who want to get married, but they are also two businessmen just trying to stay ahead of the game. Their quest for a marriage license may have set off a national debate, but there are still bills to pay and orders to fill.

"We own a business, we work," Melillo said, shrugging. "Just like any other family: We go to work, go home, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it again the next day."

Deputy Attorney General
Rick Eichor thinks he will
win the case against
non-heterosexual marriage.

Eighteen years have passed since the two met while teaching a dance class at Kapaolono Field in Kaimuki. More than five years have gone by since they went public with their marriage request and became part of the historic lawsuit against the state.

Now they sit in the midst of a furor that has caught them both by surprise.

"I thought it was going to go, yes or no, and then it would be over," says Lagon. "I didn't it was going to go on this long."

"We don't regret it," his partner adds. "We're in for the duration. But it hasn't been a joyride, and the part that hurts most is what other people say.

"They can call us everything they want, but we know we love each other and we want to show everybody that by getting married."

Their families support them, which eases the painful moments.

Lagon, a 1975 Aiea High School graduate, has lived in the area his entire life. Melillo came from Summit, N.J., in 1966 to go to college, studying food sciences at the University of Hawaii and later working in various kitchens as an executive chef. The two now have a Pearl City address.

They consider the state Legislature's debate on same-gender marriage a waste of time, feeling that nothing lawmakers did could forestall a court decision in their favor.

They think domestic partnerships are a form of "second-class citizenship" and unacceptable. Anyway, they say, their actions were not prompted by an attempt to get economic benefits as much as by a belief - a result of their Catholic upbringing - that you form a life commitment and marry the person you love.

The two men still call themselves Catholics, although they have stopped going to church and are disturbed by the tone taken by some in the religious right who are fighting homosexual marriage.

"The Bible to me is of love," Lagon says. "Everything that comes out of their Bible is hate: Fear this, hate this."

"This is a very historic thing, and we're privileged to be involved." Ninia Baehr, at right, with Genora Dancel

However, they don't dispute the opposition's argument that heterosexual marriage is the only way to have children and create a nuclear family.

"That's fine," Melillo says. "We're not stopping that. They say we're going to destroy it, but how can you destroy something that exists already just because they allow other people to get married? Life is not black and white."

The couple has appeared on national TV and been interviewed by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Although they have been recognized in the streets, they do not consider themselves celebrities or activists. They say they speak as a way of educating the public about who they are and what they believe.

If the courts do rule in their favor, they hope to have a quick, private marriage ceremony before holding a larger public reception.

"We just did what we had to do, and this is where we are today," Melillo says.

"And after we get married, it's going to go right back to the same old thing, you know.

"Running our business, struggling, trying to live."

See today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin
for two related stories.

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