By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Area opponents of same-sex marriage say they want Big Island legislators to allow the voters to decide whether Hawaii will legalize gay marriage, rather than approving a bill in the upcoming special session.
“The people were all given a voice to vote on it in 1998, and we think it’s fair to go back through the same channels,” explained David DeCleene, a former teacher at St. Joseph High School.
The East Hawaii resident has worked to organize a coalition of like-minded voters that are focused on convincing legislators to pursue gay marriage via a constitutional amendment instead of a special session.
“Let’s not do something of such consequence by starting from a dishonest footing. … There is no issue that equals marriage, it’s one of the biggest ones in our entire lives. Marriage stands alone,” he said.
Lawmakers are scheduled to begin debate on the same-sex marriage bill on Oct. 28, after Gov. Neil Abercrombie called a special session in response to a June ruling by the Supreme Court that found married gay couples are entitled to receive federal benefits.
A constitutional amendment was voted on by individual Hawaii voters in 1998 that bestowed upon the Legislature the ability to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and now some lawmakers argue that they have the ability to change the definition. On Tuesday, state Attorney General David Louie weighed in with a formal legal opinion, finding that the Legislature does indeed have the Constitutional authority to consider and enact a marriage equality bill.
But opponents say such an important decision shouldn’t be left up to legislators.
“We’ve talked to several legislators, such as (state Sen.) Russell Ruderman (D-Puna), who said he believes in same-sex marriage, and therefore he’s going to vote for it. But we’re saying, ‘No, don’t do that. Base the decision on the will of the people,’” DeCleene said.
On Monday, DeCleene was joined by about 40 people from various churches in East Hawaii as they held a sign-waving at the corner of Makaala Street and Kanoelehua Avenue.
Holding aloft signs with messages such as “Protect Our Freedom of Religion,” many of the attendees said they were standing up for their beliefs and to maintain the state’s current definition of marriage being between a man and a woman. Among them was Jean Nodacker, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We shouldn’t be persecuted for our beliefs,” she said. “… This is a civil rights issue for us. If it (gay marriage) is allowed, how much further will it go?”
Pastor Sheldon Lacsina, of New Hope Hilo Hawaii, said he had spoken with many people who did not understand exactly what might be contained in the marriage bills currently being discussed.
“This will affect every single person in the state,” he said. “We wanted to come out here today to inform people in a good, non-threatening, peaceful way. … I have several homosexual friends, and they didn’t know what was in it (the bill) either. … Why push this through so fast? They (legislators) haven’t looked at all the ramifications. … Why not take the time and do this the right way?”
In the remaining days leading up to the special session, the opponents of the bill say they are working to meet and speak with various lawmakers who they believe may be on the fence about the issue.
“If someone is wavering, we want to ask them to stand firm. We’re trying to appeal to the magnitude of it (a law allowing same-sex marriage) and to their sense of fair play,” DeCleen said.
“Sixty-five legislators who will be in one room are going to decide the future of marriage for all time for 1.2 million of us. … They’re going to be introducing the wording on a Monday and voting on Friday. They’re galloping through this at breakneck speed. We say, ‘Slow down.’”
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.