Now is right time to correct injustice for gay couples


POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

The heavy opposition to civil unions at the Senate Judiciary Committee's public hearing on House Bill 444 may lead some politicians to think that they should wait to enact civil unions until the majority is good and ready to accept them.

But this would be a mistake, because there is never a perfect time to correct injustice, and because justice delayed is justice denied. Former President Lyndon Johnson said that “;a government conceived and dedicated to the purpose that all men are born free and equal cannot pervert its mission by rephrasing the purpose to suggest that men shall be free today—but shall be equal a little later,”; while Leonard Hobhouse said that “;liberty without equality is a name of noble sound and squalid result.”;

This nation must bear in mind that no self-respecting minority which has been unfairly deprived of equal justice will accept the role of permanent victim. Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it this way: “;I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”;

The case against same-sex marriage proved too weak to survive penetrating scrutiny in the courts. The traditional-marriage amendment to the Hawaii Constitution became law only because it was approved by voters in what amounted to a contest where numerical brute force overpowered a well-reasoned request for relief from oppression. The gay and lesbian minority's access to a fundamental right was denied by a fear-driven majority.

That fear has not been borne out by experience. There is no evidence that civilization has collapsed in those states and foreign countries where civil unions or even same-sex marriages have already been legalized.

Yet law-abiding, taxpaying gay and lesbian Americans are still deemed less deserving of marriage than convicted heterosexual murderers, rapists and child molesters, who can marry while they are behind bars. Some reactionary individuals and groups, completely forgetting our nation's ideals, would even disallow civil unions.

Meanwhile, the majority doesn't scrupulously honor the institution it so fiercely “;defends.”; Not only are our divorce statistics a national disgrace, one celebrity's marriage ended only 55 hours after it began.

Our founding fathers were keenly aware that the majority is capable of making serious mistakes, which is why majority rule should not be absolute. John Adams, the second U.S. president, bluntly stated that “;the majority has eternally, and without one exception, usurped over the rights of the minority.”;

Neither today's politicians nor today's majority should disregard injustice in the present just because it was embraced by society in the distant or even recent past. As Thomas Jefferson said, “;laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.”;

Politicians who vote against civil unions may enjoy the majority's approval in the short term but may end up, along with the majority, on the wrong and shameful side of history, as did all the majorities of yesteryear who opposed interracial marriages.

On the other hand, politicians who vote for civil unions may have their political careers ended prematurely by angry constituents, but they will at least have done what is honorable and morally right, and their consciences will be clear. They will be vindicated when a future, wiser, less reactionary majority accepts liberty and justice for all.

The civil-unions issue presents our Legislature and our governor with an acid test of strength of character and of sensitivity to injustice. The most admirable politicians are those who are willing to step down after serving only one term with vision, integrity, intelligence and the courage to do what is right in the face of strong temptation to take the easy way out. We will soon find out who they are.


Kent Hirata is a resident of Honolulu.