Hearing on civil unions bill attracts hundreds


POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Impassioned crowds swamped the Hawaii Capitol so they could tell legislators exactly how they feel about same-sex civil unions: either an attack on traditional marriage or a gateway to equal rights.

Despite the display of participatory government, with more than 1,300 people signed up to testify today, the outcome of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing appeared predetermined. The full Senate plans to yank the bill from the committee if its vote ends in a 3-3 tie as expected.

The hearing got off to a fiery start with a clash between transgendered state Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto and Democratic Sen. Mike Gabbard, a former Republican who led the fight against gay marriages in Hawaii more than a decade ago.

Gabbard held up children’s books with titles like “Daddy’s Wedding” and “It’s Perfectly Normal” as he claimed that “these books would be taught in our schools” if the civil unions bill passes.

As the crowd groaned and cheered, Iwamoto responded that civil unions would help make children in gay families feel more normal and less likely to commit suicide. Iwamoto, who was born a boy but now lives as a woman, in 2006 won the highest elected post of any transgender person in the country without either hiding her sexual status or making it part of her campaign.

“I want to make sure that these kids aren’t thinking, ’Gee, just because that kid has gay parents, let’s harass him, let’s bully him,”’ Iwamoto said. “Our kids get these messages and they impose them on each other in hurtful ways.”

Hundreds of red-shirted civil union opponents outnumbered gay rights advocates at the Capitol, with many overflowing from the auditorium into the halls to watch the testimony on TVs set up for the occasion. It was the largest turnout for a Capitol hearing in years.