Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Civil Unions Bill - Open Letter to the Community

Dear Constituents:

As you know, the Governor vetoed HB444, the Civil Unions bill. Nevertheless, I realize that many of you remain very concerned about this bill since it will probably resurface in the future. Therefore, I wish to clarify a few things about this measure.

First of all, HB444 did NOT legalize gay marriage. A civil union is not a marriage, and the bill preserved marriage as being only between a man and a woman. The second sentence of the bill reads: "By establishing the status of civil unions in our State, it is not the legislature's intent to revise the definition or eligibility requirements of marriage under chapter 572, Hawaii Revised Statutes."

Second, HB444 did NOT require any church official or anyone else, to perform civil unions. Section -4(b) and (c) of the bill states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to require any person authorized to perform solemnizations of marriages or civil unions to perform a solemnization of a civil union, and no such authorized person who fails or refuses for any reason to join persons in a civil union shall be subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal."

Third, while HB444 extends spousal benefits to partners in a civil union, it also extends responsibilities. The House Judiciary's committee report states: "Your Committee finds that the promotion of stable, committed relationships in which private citizens are legally obligated to look after each other's best interests and affairs serves an important public policy, and that if more private citizens are legally obligated to look after each other's well-being, government may be able to direct its efforts in such areas as health and human services in a more focused and efficient manner."

Finally, HB444 is consistent with our U.S. and Hawaii Constitution. Just as the U.S. Constitution protects everyone's freedom of religion, it also ensures that all persons are treated equally, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person's gender. These Constitutional protections are what lead the Hawaii Supreme Court to rule that same-sex couples deserve the same protection under the law as heterosexual couples (See the 1993 HI Supreme Court opinion authored by Associate Justice Steven Levinson, Baehr v. Lewin).

I encourage you to read HB444, which is a relatively straightforward, short bill (only 6 pages, double-spaced). To view the text, testimony, committee reports, status, etc. of HB444, click here or go to this link:

I realize that many of you are opposed to HB444, and I completely respect your opinions. I wish to assure you that HB444 was only an attempt to reflect equality under the law as intended by our Constitution, and not to infringe on anyone else's freedom or beliefs.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding civil unions. Mahalo nui loa for the privilege of serving you.

~ Maile

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