Friday, November 6, 1998

Same-sex marriage
debate rages on,
now over domestic
partnership bill

By Mike Yuen


Anti-gay rights activist Mike Gabbard has attacked Gov. Ben Cayetano, asserting that Cayetano's push for a "domestic partnership" bill to extend marriage-related benefits to same-gender couples smacks of approval of same-sex marriages.

He is astounded, Gabbard said yesterday, that a declaration can be made in the same week that voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that, in effect, bans same-sex marriage.

But while Gabbard interpreted passage of the measure that gives the Legislature the authority to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples as also a rejection of domestic partnerships, others who worked with Gabbard to pass the amendment disagree.

Jennifer Diesman, a spokeswoman for Save Traditional Marriage-'98, which was formed solely for the passage of the amendment, said the group has no position on domestic partnerships, which would extend marriage rights but not marital status to gay couples.

The polls done for Save Traditional Marriage revealed that isle residents have no problem with gay relationships and homosexuality, but they balked at having marriage extended to homosexuals, Diesman said. The group's statewide surveys, Diesman added, pointed to wider acceptance of domestic partnerships than same-sex marriages.

"People are uncomfortable denying rights and benefits to any group of people. A certain segment that voted "yes" (on the constitutional amendment) favors domestic partnerships," she said.

Diesman also noted that Hawaii's Future Today, the group that opposes same-gender marriage, prostitution and gambling and whose leaders interlock with Save Traditional Marriage's, supported a 1997 reciprocal beneficiaries bill that's a limited version of domestic partnerships.

That bill, unmatched anywhere in the nation for what it granted gay couples, was part of the compromise that allowed voters to have their say on same-sex marriage, Diesman added. It extended rights such as hospital visitation, probate and property transfers but not child custody, alimony and spousal privilege.

"Domestic partnership is just another name for same-sex marriage," said Gabbard, who stressed that he wasn't speaking for Save Traditional Marriage, although he is a member of its steering committee.

Gabbard, who founded Stop Promoting Homosexuality International, said he was speaking as chairman of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage.

Gabbard opposed the state law that prohibits discrimination of gays in employment. " 'Special rights' should not be given on the basis of sexual orientation and behavior," he said.

Cayetano, who was among the 69 percent who voted "yes" on the anti-gay marriage amendment, wants the Legislature to approve a comprehensive domestic partnership bill partly to counter assertions that the state is intolerant because of the new constitutional provision that would limit marriage to one man and one woman.

Cayetano's position is not new. As early as 1996, he saw domestic partnerships as the way to end what is now a nearly decade-long debate over same-sex marriage that has divided the isles.

"The institution of marriage should be left to the church. The government needs to explore its role in marriages," Cayetano said back then. "The government should not be in the role of sanctifying marriages."

Gabbard said gays don't need domestic partnerships because the rights they're seeking can be obtained through contracts, wills and trusts.

Civil rights attorney Dan Foley, who represents the three gay couples that sued the state in 1991 for the right to marry, wondered why Gabbard sees the need for a lawyer to have to codify every long-term gay relationship.

"It is disingenuous for him to say that domestic partnerships are the same as same-sex marriages," Foley said.

"Legally and morally, they are very different things. Domestic partnerships have a far lesser status."

Jackie Young, campaign director for the unsuccessful effort to derail the anti-gay marriage amendment, said she fully backs Cayetano's plan to have the Legislature adopt a comprehensive domestic partnership bill for gay couples.

"For some reason, the word 'marriage' has more people hung up than it should," she said.

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