Hawaii's World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, May 16, 1996

Domestic partnership is more acceptable

BACK in 1973 a commission I chaired wrote "A Plan for Hawaii's Environment." Much of what we recommended became law in 1974. It still is a basis for a lot of Hawaii's environmental law.

Among the large number of words we wrote was a single sentence that more than 30 of us hassled over for several meetings.

It recommended that Hawaii should "foster a variety of compatible lifestyles with special care to preserve the variety of lifestyles traditional to the Hawaiian community through the design and maintenance of neighborhoods which respect the culture and mores of the community."

In those days hippies were camping out in a few beach parks, crowding out regular visitors, smoking pot and often showing hostility and contempt for the regulars. It made those public places extremely unpleasant. Our commission - which included a lot of government officials - wrestled with what our position should be.

It was hard because we all believed in freedom to pursue divergent lifestyles but needed words to cover the areas where they might collide with each other. Those final few words - "which respect the culture and mores of the community" - gave us the answer we had struggled so hard to find.

Recalling them has at last given me what I consider a reasonable basis for my own feelings about gay marriage.

Being gay is not a choice in most cases. It is a fact of life. Persons who are attracted to others of the same sex can find these drives as strongly influencing in their lives as heterosexual attraction is in the lives of most. It is a condition that can be hidden or suppressed in the closet of life but seldom can be changed.

It often results in relationships just as strong and loving as heterosexual marriage. It has to be respected. But I do think gays, for their part, could help avoid unpleasant confrontations with traditional lifestyles by not demanding that the word "marriage" be used to bless their unions.

Gays, of course, have been at war for their rights for some 20 years now. It has been difficult and required considerable personal bravery by the leaders. Confronting entrenched inequity of any kind is rarely easy, even when right is on your side. Attitudes rarely change overnight.

Gays have won many victories nationwide, including acceptance at the level of the White House. They are on the verge of even more. But the nationwide reaction to Hawaii's consideration of approving gay marriage and the inability of our own Legislature to agree on it after months of debate tell us we are at a watershed.

GAYS may be able to press on and win. But several large religious groups will remain offended for years to come. The community will remain divided. And hostility may be fanned to far higher levels than it has been by the abortion issue.

Do we want this? No, we don't. I think there is a way to avoid this but it will take strong leadership from the gay community and hard swallowing by many of the people bitterly opposed to gay marriage.

"Domestic partnerships" will have far wider acceptance than homosexual marriage and can achieve the same public sanctity and legal protections and benefits. They will not have the same in-your-face offensiveness to many that using the word "marriage" creates. If gay leaders would signal their willingness to accept this I think we might move to the goal our 1973 commission recommended: "Foster a variety of compatible lifestyles . . . which respect the culture and mores of the community."

A.A. Smyser is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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