pour in for same-
Officials from mainlandBy Mike Yuen
organizations are manning
Hawaii trenches for a state
ban on such marriages
High-ranking officials from the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, are in Honolulu to galvanize support for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages.
David Welch, the coalition's Western regional field director, and Kevin Theriot, who directs the center's work in the West, were to be featured speakers at a private meeting today for about 25 evangelical Christian and Catholic ministers, as well as conservative Jews, said meeting organizers.
Not only were the ramifications of same-sex marriage to be discussed, but also how deeply pastors and congregations can be involved in political activity, including voter registration, without jeopardizing their churches' tax-exempt status.
Welch's and Theriot's presence in Hawaii further illustrates that the state will be a national battleground on the same-sex issue in this year's election.
Already, one of the nation's largest gay-rights organizations, the Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C., has established an affiliated isle political action committee, Protect Our Constitution/Human Rights Campaign.
And the national marriage project of the gay rights Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund of New York City is monitoring isle-related developments.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which, like the Christian Coalition, is based in Virginia Beach, Va., said in a telephone interview that the proposed constitutional amendment on the Hawaii ballot is going to be one of the most important fights on the same-sex issue.
Sekulow said if voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment giving legislators the power to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples, he expects isle civil rights attorney Dan Foley, who represents three same-sex couples seeking state marriage licenses, to challenge the validity of the vote.
Foley said Sekulow is right. If voters agree to limit marriage, it would be gender discrimination, Foley asserted. "I would be arguing equal rights and benefits," Foley added.
The Christian Coalition's Welch likened today's meeting to a grass-roots educational and training effort that starts out with a small group "that recruits others to the cause."
"The core issue of civilization -- the definition of marriage -- is at stake," Welch said.
In 1988, when Robertson was a Republican presidential candidate, his backers seized control of the state Republican Party and won, prior to his dropping out of the race, 80 percent of the isle delegates to the GOP national convention in New Orleans. It took four years before party regulars regained control of the Hawaii Republican Party.
The Christian Coalition claims 1.9 million members nationwide, but its organizers could not immediately say how many are in Hawaii.
Welch said too many ministers and congregations limit their political activity because of their narrow interpretation of church-state separation.
Churches, he said, can be involved in voter registration drives and publish get-out-the-vote announcements. Pastors can encourage their congregants to be "active citizens" participating in the political process.
"The main constraint is that the church cannot endorse or oppose candidates. Churches cannot engage in partisan activities. But a pastor individually can; a pastor does not give up his free-speech rights," Welch added.
University of Hawaii law professor Jon Van Dyke said the law is clear in allowing religious groups to participate in political activity.
"The current buzzword is accommodation. It means not pushing religion away but allowing religion to thrive," Van Dyke said.