Wednesday, November 11, 1998

Fines possible
for Christian

The group that opposes same-sex
marriage may have violated state law

By Mike Yuen


The national Christian Coalition is staring at state sanctions and could be assessed fines totaling thousands of dollars.

The state Campaign Spending Commission issued a preliminary finding yesterday that the coalition, based in Chesapeake, Va., violated state law by refusing to register and disclose its financial role in the successful effort to pass a constitutional amendment that rejects same-sex marriage.

But the coalition's isle attorney, Paul L'Ecuyer, called the commission's position "premature."

L'Ecuyer's assessment sets the stage for administrative hearings by the commission.

If the hearings go against the coalition, which has a Hawaii affiliate, it would be compelled to register and disclose its donors, just as every ballot-issue advocacy group must do.

The coalition could also be fined as much as $1,000 for each "incident" in which it was in violation, said Brian Nakamura, general counsel of the Campaign Spending Commission.

At issue is the coalition's printing of 200,000 voter guides that urged a "yes" vote on the amendment, which gives the Legislature the power to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The guides were distributed statewide in churches on the Sunday before the general election. That action violated state law, Nakamura has said.

Also of concern to the commission is the $5,000 that the national coalition gave to the Hawaii Christian Coalition, which also supported the amendment, for organizational work and chapter building.

Steve Okino, the spokesman for Protect Our Constitution, which unsuccessfully sought to derail the amendment, hailed the commission's stance. For months, no-vote advocates -- which included the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay-rights organization -- warned of "large mainland religious groups" coming to Hawaii to influence isle public policy, he said.

"All along, we've been saying that if outside groups come in, they must follow the rules, play by rules, as we did," Okino said.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Susan Mollway rejected the Christian Coalition challenge of the state campaign spending law. But she did express doubts about the constitutionality of requiring advocacy groups to disclose the names, addresses and occupations of donors who give $100 or more to influence ballot measures.

The Christian Coalition's legal affiliate, the American Center for Law and Justice, whose national office is in Virginia Beach, Va., could be a presence at the Legislature next year if Gov. Ben Cayetano keeps his promise and submits a domestic partnership bill.

The center is in the forefront of fighting domestic partnerships, which extend the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples without conferring martial status.

The day after the general election, Jay Sekulow, the center's chief counsel, said the more than 2-to-1 ratio by which isle voters approved the amendment was "a major victory for marriage and the family."

Since Alaska also approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Sekulow said, "It is clear that America is not -- and may never well be -- ready for homosexual marriage."

Critics of domestic partnerships assert they are same-sex marriages under a different name.

Same-sex marriage:
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