Thursday, November 13, 1997

Preparing for battle
on same-sex marriage

ADVERSARIES have begun preparing for the referendum in next year's elections on whether to remove the state constitutional right in Hawaii for homosexuals to marry. Opponents of same-sex marriage have formed a political action committee called Save Traditional Marriage-'98, while those in favor of retaining the constitutional right are organized under the banner of Marriage Project Hawaii. The issue is an appropriate one for the voters to decide, but they should reject the proposed amendment.

The issue, which has attracted attention nationally, arose in Hawaii because of a lawsuit brought by gay and lesbian couples contesting the state's policy against allowing them to marry. The state Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the issue was parallel to that of interracial marriage, which was protected by a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In a trial last year, Circuit Judge Kevin Chang ruled that the state had failed to provide a compelling reason to override that principle and disallow same-sex marriage.

Some states have overreacted to the events here by enacting laws of questionable constitutionality that would refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. Congress passed and President Clinton last year signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, authorizing states to do so, but that law is either unconstitutional or unnecessary.

Meanwhile homosexuals gained ground elsewhere in their quest for equal rights. Medical, dental and life insurance benefits have been granted gay and lesbian couples by several jurisdictions and major companies. The state Legislature has approved a range of benefits for so-called reciprocal beneficiaries, including homosexuals, while approving the proposed same-sex amendment. House Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom led the fight for the proposed amendment.

Framers of the Hawaii Constitution may not have realized that their words would be interpreted to protect the matrimonial right of gays and lesbians. The question of whether the high court's interpretation should be affirmed is a legitimate issue for voters to decide. Formation of groups on both sides is further evidence of the strong public interest in the issue.

Hawaii should retain its model of tolerance by rejecting an amendment that would deny homosexuals a fundamental right.

Same-sex marriage:
Past articles

Down with the poles

THE issue was aesthetics versus safety, and aesthetics won. In the face of community opposition, the state has scrapped a plan to illuminate Kamehameha Highway between Wahiawa and Weed Circle in Haleiwa with lights mounted on 30-foot-high poles.

A meeting in Haleiwa called by state Rep. Alexander Santiago heard state officials announce that the wooden light poles already erected over the past three weeks -- about a third of those planned -- would be removed and other solutions sought.

One could say the community had itself to blame. A representative of Governor Cayetano pointed out the Transportation Department had received a community request for the lighting after six people were killed on the road during evening hours.

Santiago admitted that for years it was thought that installing lights would improve safety along that stretch of the highway, but when the poles were erected he and other residents found that they detracted from the scenic beauty of the drive. It was also pointed out that poles can themselves be a safety hazard.

Charles Toguchi, the governor's chief of staff, noted that reflectors or lights without poles were proposed as alternatives, and said the state would be studying their feasibility.

In the face of the strong opposition to the poles, the state had to respond as it did. Of course, if there are more traffic fatalities on that stretch of road that can be attributed to a lack of lighting, public sentiment may change again. The ideal would be a way to illuminate the road without spoiling the view with ugly poles, but that may not be possible.

East Asian economies

THE financial turmoil in East Asia has to worry the United States and particularly Hawaii. Continued troubles in that region, especially Japan, could stymie efforts to stimulate Hawaii's stagnant economy.

Joseph Stiglitz, senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, credits sound fiscal policies, low inflation, export-driven growth and effective institutions as factors leading to the region's becoming the world's biggest recipient of foreign investment.

For the past 25 years East Asian economies have grown more than twice that of the average rate for the rest of the world. Malaysia and Thailand have virtually eliminated so-called absolute poverty, defined as people living on less than $1 a day.

However, the economic picture has darkened in recent months. Stiglitz, writing in the New York Times, notes that global demand for imports, especially semi conductors, has slowed. The rise of the dollar against the yen undermined the export competitiveness of East Asian countries, most of which had tied their currencies to the dollar. Weak financial regulation allowed lenders in some countries to expand credit rapidly, often to risky borrowers, to fuel a real estate boom and stock market speculation.

Stiglitz calls on governments of the region to strengthen financial oversight and eliminate extravagant public spending in favor of improvements to infrastructure and education.

The United States, Japan and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must help East Asian governments in their efforts at stabilization. But ultimately it is up to those governments themselves to take the tough measures that can restore confidence and repair their economies.

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