Marriage, Hawaiian Style



 The organized opposition to the marriage decision, a group called Hawaii’s Future Today, is composed primarily of Mormon and Roman Catholic leaders. So far they have avoided alliances with inflammatory conservative leaders from the mainland. Foley notes that Bill Horn, an antigay activist from Iowa, was scheduled to appear in Hawaii but canceled his visit after Hawaii’s Future Today signaled its displeasure.

In fact, the fight over same-sex marriage in Hawaii has been unusually civil. Gomes recalls that at a press conference announcing Chang’s ruling, a spokesman for Hawaii’s Future Today even gave her a congratulatory hug.

“Luckily, public discussion has never risen to the kind of hurtful, malicious, violent climate seen in other parts of the country,” says Chong. “There’s too much diversity here. There’s a climate of having to get along.” So far no increase has been reported in antigay bias crimes because of the debate.

Indeed, with its long-standing liberal tradition and tolerance for racial and ethnic intermarriage, Hawaii seems the logical place for the issue of same-sex marriage to have come up. “If you look at our history, we have that kind of openness and acceptance,” says Gomes. “I think we’re a different kind of community.”

And yet the hunger for same-sex marriage goes far beyond the islands’ shores. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in February, some 200 couples are expected to join together in a mass commitment ceremony as part of the city’s Winter Gayla 97.

“Publicly acknowledging your relationship is something many gay couples want to do,” says Arnoldo Ramirez, an organizer for the event. “Hawaii has given people hope that the civil right of marriage is within our grasp, that it’s a matter of time.”

Yet activists in Hawaii are concerned that mainland gays and lesbians are just sitting back and waiting to fill in a date on their wedding invitations while a handful of people on the islands pave the way. Says Melillo: “We feel frustrated that we haven’t gotten as much support from the mainland as we would like—not just financially but also morally.”

The largest group seeking such support is the Hawai’i Equal Rights Marriage Project, which runs on a shoestring budget largely out of a spare bedroom in director Sue Reardon’s home and on the covered terrace of activist Tom Ramsey’s apartment. “I’d hate to say we’re a virtual organization,” says Ramsey, pointing to the group’s Web site. “We do have a post-office box.”

Gays and lesbians in Hawaii have been energized by the marriage effort, says Ramsey. But for a cause with far-reaching national implications, HERMP’s fund-raising efforts on the mainland have met with spotty success at best. Foley is still owed some $50,000 in legal fees. The financial shortfall grates on local activists, who are convinced that a relatively modest investment could produce big results.