Saturday, October 17, 1998

Same-sex issue
debated on TV,
clarified for some

Two groups on opposing
sides of the ballot measure are
deluged by viewers' questions

By Mary Adamski


Two sides in the same-gender marriage ballot issue had the chance to expand on their philosophies and run out buzzwords, stereotypes and accusations last night, with the satisfaction of knowing a prime-time television audience was tuned in.

Hundreds of callers swamped the telephones at KHON-TV with questions for the representatives of the Save Traditional Marriage and Protect Our Constitution organizations, which are responsible for more pre-election advertising than any candidates.

People on both sides said the forum shed light on the subject but also revealed that many are in the dark about how to vote.

The question on the Nov. 3 ballot is whether the Legislature should have the authority to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

"There are still so many people confused about what the yes and no votes mean," said the Rev. Marc Alexander of Save Traditional Marriage. He found the one-hour program too short to fully cover the history and arguments but said: "It was another opportunity to help educate people to vote in an informed way. They now know that a 'yes' vote is a vote for traditional marriage and a 'no' vote is a vote for homosexual marriage, and so is a blank vote. It's become clearer that this ballot issue is only about marriage."

Steve Okino of Protect Our Constitution said, "From the viewer response ... people are hungry, desperate for information because it's a complex issue, and that's what we've been saying all along." He watched on the set as Jackie Young and Ku'umeaaloha Gomes represented the organization in the lively exchange with Alexander and Mike Gabbard of Alliance for Traditional Marriage Hawaii.

Young said she thinks people are confused "because they are so adamant that it is a marriage issue and it is not, and we are adamant it is a constitutional issue."

After the debate, Kyle Kajihiro of American Friends Service Committee said the participants got sidetracked from their messages by getting embroiled in "too many arguments on the intricacies. That is hard to follow even if you have been working on it.

"I thought it was confusing because of the format, with no opportunities for people to make an opening statement. It became so freewheeling, the questions didn't get to some of the essence of the issue."

Kajihiro, who supports Protect Our Constitution, said to the group, "It is an issue of separation of power between the legislative and judicial branches, and also an issue of separation of church and state."

Bill Woods of Gay and Lesbian Education and Advocacy Foundation said: "I think people who listened to the whole hour got a balanced perspective. The primary issues of both groups came out. I think it hones it a little better. What some people perceive as a simplistic issue, this brought out the complex, profound aspects of the amendment."

The panelists frequently tried to talk over an opponent's speech and huffed at the other side's claims. But overall they stayed civil, were occasionally brought into line firmly by moderator Leslie Wilcox and, after the cameras were off, exchanged traditional Hawaii kisses with their opponents.

Young said an attack on legalized abortion is next for conservative Christian groups who support traditional marriage. That has been the claim of a recent advertisement calling for a "no" vote.

Tommy Amarino, executive director of Hawaii Christian Coalition, said Protect Our Constitution is accusing the coalition of that agenda and "it is a lie." The group, an affiliate of the national Christian Coalition, filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission saying its purpose is to "support ballot questions which protect tradition marriage and which are pro-life." Amarino said that means "Homosexual marriage cannot produce a life. . . . Traditional marriages are healthy and perpetuate the family."

Amarino said his organization is promoting a "yes" vote through grass-roots efforts but does not sponsor advertisements.

Gomes, who identified herself as a "gay woman," said: "I wish that I didn't have to label myself. It is people like you who force me to do that. I wish that I could just be, and could just celebrate being, native Hawaiian, being a woman, being a sexual person. You force us into a position of the good and the bad."

Blank ballots cause concern
for same-sex opponents

By Mike Yuen


State Chief Election Officer Dwayne Yoshina says he will look at a procedure that same-sex marriage opponents say undermines efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.

At issue are instructions given to precinct workers: If native Hawaiian voters participating in the election of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs decline to accept a general election ballot, those blank ballots should be run through the ballot-scanning machine. That puts more blank ballots into the system.

On ballot issues, such as the same-sex marriage measure, blank votes are counted as "no" votes.

That boosts the count for those favoring homosexual marriage, said Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, a political action committee.

Campaign '98 Those favoring a "yes" vote must get more than 50 percent of all the ballots submitted, including blank and spoiled votes. That's an uphill fight, Gabbard said.

"With so much riding on this election, specifically the marriage amendment having international implications, we're demanding action be taken to correct these problems," Gabbard said yesterday. If the measure fails, it would open the door to Hawaii becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriages, Gabbard added.

In December 1996, state Circuit Judge Kevin Chang ruled that the state failed to provide a compelling reason to justify limiting marriage to one man and one woman and ordered the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The matter is on appeal.

Yoshina said he believes only a few OHA voters will decline a regular election ballot.

He wanted the regular ballots that might be turned down by OHA voters scanned into the elections system so there is an accurate turnout count, Yoshina said, or a record made when an OHA voter refuses to take a regular ballot.

Yoshina also acknowledged that he is facing a rebellion of sorts from some precinct officials who feel that the "fact sheet" explanations prepared by the Legislative Reference Bureau as to what a "yes" or a "no" vote means on the same-sex marriage question are inadequate.

"We've told precinct officials to not state an opinion but to refer to the fact sheet. If (voters asking questions) persist in talking, (precinct officials) are to call the control center. We're trying to be as objective as possible in this process. It goes without saying, we take no sides."

Critics of the ballot measure argue that the issue isn't same-sex marriage but whether the Hawaii Constitution should be amended to deny gays and lesbians rights that others have.

After complaints from Gabbard that the elections office wasn't doing an adequate job in explaining the meaning of blank votes -- they count as "no" votes -- Yoshina had the fact sheet for the same-sex marriage ballot measure revised and mailed to 300,000 homes statewide.

Same-sex marriage:
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