Hawaii Conservatives Attempt 'Citizen's Filibuster' on Marriage Equality
More than 5,000 people — the vast majority of whom are conservative Christians opposed to same-sex marriage — have signed up to testify before the Hawaii House Committees on Judiciary and Finance. Each constituent who signed up by Monday's midnight deadline is allotted two minutes before the 30-member committee to make their case. As of 10:30 p.m. Monday, lawmakers had heard more than 50 hours of testimony, according to Honolulu Civil Beat.
While the precise breakdown of supportive and oppositional testimony is hard to calculate, news outlets in Hawaii are reporting that a substantial majority of the testimony has been in opposition, delivered by religious groups who have been encouraging their members to "waste time" during the hearings, apparently intending to launch what Zack Ford at Think Progress calls a "Citizen's Filibuster."
And according to emails sent out by the Hawaii Christian Coalition, religious leaders are encouraging their congregations to cheat the legislative system by offering testimony by proxy. Civil Beat obtained copies of the identical emails from the Hawaii Christian Coalition and from a senior pastor at New Hope Metro Church, explicitly instructing the faithful to provide false witness.
Explaining the urgent need for a sizable anti-equality turnout, the email instructed:
"So for example, if John Doe has a number but cannot testify because he's at work, he has Jane Smith show up on his behalf and read his testimony. Jane is NOT REPLACING John's testimony with her own but is reading his testimony to the group in order to waste time!"
Hawaii News Now reports that capitol officials confirmed someone stole a list of names of those registered to testify Saturday and were investigating allegations that citizens were testifying before lawmakers more than once with a different name, using registration numbers not assigned to them, and finding other ways to delay the vote until a planned anti-equality rally on Thursday.
As a result of the allegations, officials within the Hawaii House of Representatives are now requiring that those wishing to testify show photo identification both when they sign up, and immediately before they take the podium to address the committee.
"It's a delaying tactic," Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told Hawaii News Now. "They're trying to either bring more attention to the issue or slow the process down and they do this by talking. … The hope is that you can slow the process down, get them to really think about this and see that there are many other people who are opposed to this — and perhaps members of the legislature will now become less comfortable supporting this."
But Moore — like Ford and several other sources close to the proceedings — doesn't think the "Citizens filibuster" will be successful, since a delayed vote doesn't necessarily result in a lawmaker's changed vote.
"Is it likely to prevent gay marriage from being enacted?" asked Moore. "In this case, I think that's unlikely — but it does bring a lot more attention to the issue. I think in some cases it's more effective than say protests, because citizens are able to tell their own story."
Democratic governor Neil Abercrombie called the special legislative session to consider the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013, and said he wouldn't have called the session if he wasn't confident the legislature would pass the bill. The state Senate approved the legislation last week, though the chamber might have to reconsider the bill if it's significantly amended in the House. If the law, which includes broad religious exemptions, is passed by both chambers, same-sex couples in Hawaii could begin marrying November 18.
Watch Hawaii News Now's report on the cheating allegations below.