Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hawaii next?

Hawaii may soon enact marriage equality, which would be great for SO many reasons. Aside from the most important resons for enacting marriage equality—justice and fairness—another reason is simpler: Closure.

Many people forget that it was actually a 1993 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court, Baehr v. Lewin, that led a few years later, in 1996, to the infamous "Defense [sic] of Marriage Act". The USA's rightwing was terrified that if Hawaii legalised marriage for same-gender couples, the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution would force all states to recognise those marriages. Of course, DOMA went much farther, also denying federal benefits to legally-married gay couples—of which there were NONE in the USA in 1996!

I remember distinctly that some otherwise sensible people on the centre and left argued that DOMA, bad as it was, was the only way to stop the movement to amend the US Constitution to forever outlaw marriage equality in all 50 US States. It would buy time, they argued, until the people’s hearts changed. Maybe they were right.

However, by the time President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, the trigger—possible marriage equality in Hawaii—was over. In 1998, Hawaii (together with Alaska) became the first US state to amend its constitution to ban marriage for same-gender couples, though in Hawaii's case it merely allowed the state legislature to restrict marriage to opposite gender couples only. This was basically designed to overturn the Baehr decision. It wasn’t until 2004 that Massachusetts became the first US state with marriage equality—though DOMA blocked any national or federal recognition of those marriages.

In 2010, the puffed-up, self-important arrogant—and twice divorced—Republican then-Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, vetoed that state’s civil union law. As she would, being a Republican governor, and all, and who was, as such politicians so often do, perhaps overcompensating for something. Much has changed in the years since then, and Hawaii is rid of her (she lost a 2012 bid to become a US Senator from Hawaii).

If Hawaii does enact marriage equality, it would be a great way to start closing the national wounds that were opened up there 20 years ago this year, wounds that were rubbed open again and again, chiefly by opportunistic Republican politicians and their religionist allies. The world has moved on from the anti-equality frenzy of the mid-1990s, and more and more places are adopting marriage equality. I think it would be fantastic for Hawaii to do so, too, 20 years after becoming the place where the USA's fight began.

The time has come, Hawaii!

Photo: By the uploader (Own work; taken by the uploader) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


rogerogreen said...

To this day, I've never bought the "they'll change the Constitution" argument. Do they know how difficult it was, and is, to change the Consytitution? Save for the 27th, which was passed in 1992 after being introduced in 1789(!), there hasn't been a change since 1971, despite threats over anti-flag burning, balanced budgets and so many more, I've now forgotten. 38 states would have been difficult to get, even then. AND rolling over to allow DOMA just empowered the other side.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yep, I completely agree with you. I thought it was a lame rationalisation at the time, just a way for liberals to try and justify their pro-DOMA votes to constituents who were appalled by the vote. It's true there was a LOT of anti-gay noise then, but it was all sound and fury symbolising nothing.

I do wonder, though, if DOMA didn't exist, would Karl Rove have used a drive to amend the US Constitution as an organising tool. He certainly whipped-up anti-gay mobs to enact state laws and state constitutional amendments as a way to increase Republican votes, so would he have similarly cynically exploited a national process for pure partisan political gain? He was certainly capable of that sort of evil, but, as you say, amending the US Constitution IS incredibly difficult.