Marriage, Hawaiian Style



Lawmakers have two options for amending the state constitution, which at this point is the only way to stop same-sex marriage. They could pass an amendment directly by a vote of the legislature, in which case, says Foley, the measure would certainly be a hybrid bill that would include domestic-partnership rights and other benefits rather than simply ban same-sex marriage.

Some supporters of same-sex marriage say they aren’t willing to accept such a compromise. “I don’t want to settle for domestic partnership,” says Rod­rigues. “As far as giving us some benefits, I say forget it. We’re halfway there—let’s go for it.”

Strategically, however, the move makes sense. Gay-marriage advocates are betting that such an amendment would create so much turmoil that it would never pass. “If we have a constitutional amendment where you have to vote up or down on both marriage and domestic-partner benefits, people will go all sorts of ways,” says Foley. A similar strategy effectively killed a measure to outlaw same-sex marriage in the California legislature last year. And even if the amendment passed in Hawaii, it would have to be approved by voters in November 1998.

Another option for legislators opposed to same-sex marriage would be to clear the way for a constitutional convention, known in local shorthand as a “concon,” where the issue could be considered by specially elected delegates. Voters approved such a convention last November, but the results are being challenged in court.

“If the legislature passes enabling legislation,” says Chong, “the 1998 general election would be when concon delegates are elected and 1999 would be the convention. The propositions would be on the ballot in 2000.” By that time, however, voters will find themselves in the unusual position of deciding whether to annul hundreds, perhaps thousands, of legal unions that have already taken place.

“If we can show the public real, existing families and ask them not to dissolve those marriages, it will be different,” says Foley. For the opposition, he adds, “it will be a real hard fight.”

Foley is also betting that the reality of gay marriage will seem less threatening than the picture painted by its opponents. “Once we have [legalized gay marriage], those arguments can be seen for their speciousness,” he says. “Desegregation met with resistance because it forced a group of people to be with people they didn’t want to be with. It changed white people’s lives. Gay marriage doesn’t do anything like that. The composition of the workplace will not change; your neighbors will not change. Nothing else happens.” Or, as Melillo puts it, “The sky doesn’t fall; the world doesn’t end.”

That’s something opponents of same-sex marriage are not eager to find out. “The religious right is very aware of this time­table,” says Chong.