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Why a Lesbian Lawmaker Voted Against Hawaii's Same-Sex Marriage Bill

With 1 in 3 states soon allowing gays and lesbians to wed, religious freedom protections get unexpected advocate.
Why a Lesbian Lawmaker Voted Against Hawaii's Same-Sex Marriage Bill Image: Gillfoto/Wikimedia

Hawaii overtook Illinois yesterday as the latest American state to legalize same-sex marriage (raising the total to nearly 1 in 3 states). But more unexpectedly, given that Hawaii was one of the first states where the issue surfaced, a Hawaii state representative has caused waves for becoming the first openly gay lawmaker to vote against a state's same-sex marriage bill.

Rep. Jo Jordan voted against SB1 because she said its exemptions were "too narrow," especially regarding religious freedom.

"It wasn't protective enough for everybody," Jordan told Honolulu Magazine, later noting, "I'm not here to protect the big churches or the little churches, I'm saying we can't erode what's currently out there. We don't want to scratch at the religious protections at all, because if we don't create a measure that's bulletproof, or as close to bulletproof as possible, then the measure will go to the courts."

The final bill was passed Tuesday on a 19-4 Senate vote after 55 hours of public testimony and two day-long sessions in the House, where it passed with a 30-19 vote. NBC News reports:

House lawmakers tacked on exemptions to the bill allowing religious groups and affiliated nonprofits to be exempt from having to provide goods, services or facilities for the solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriages. They will be immune from legal liability, too. The exemptions were modeled after similar language in Connecticut's gay-marriage law.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the measure Wednesday, making Hawaii the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage, effective December 2. Illinois also recently voted to legalize same-sex marriage, but Gov. Pat Quinn will not sign the measure until November 20.

The Hawaii bill now states it will protect religious freedom by:

(A) Ensuring that any clergy, minister, priest, rabbi, officer of any religious denomination or society, or religious society not having clergy but providing solemnizations that is authorized to perform solemnizations shall not be required to solemnize any marriage or civil union that is against their religious beliefs or faith, in accordance with the Hawaii state constitution and the United States Constitution; and

(B) Clarifying that a religious organization or nonprofit organization operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization shall not be required to provide goods, services, or its facilities or grounds for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage or civil union that is in violation of its religious beliefs or faith.

By contrast, the Illinois bill states:

Nothing in this Act shall interfere with or regulate the religious practice of any religious denomination or Indian Nation....

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination or Indian Nation ... or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation ... to solemnize any marriage. Instead [it is] ... free to choose which marriages it will solemnize. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, a refusal by a religious denomination or Indian Nation..., or any minister, clergy, or officiant ... to solemnize any marriage under this Act shall not create or be the basis for any civil, administrative, or criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action.

No church, mosque, synagogue, temple, nondenominational ministry, interdenominational or ecumenical organization, mission organization, or other organization whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion is required to provide religious facilities for the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony of a marriage if the ... ceremony or celebration ... is in violation of its religious beliefs. [Such] entity ... shall be immune from any civil, administrative, criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action based on its refusal to provide religious facilities .... As used in this subsection..., "religious facilities" means sanctuaries, parish halls, fellowship halls, and similar facilities. "Religious facilities" does not include facilities such as businesses, health care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies.

The legislation ends a decades-long debate in Hawaii, starting in 1990 when two women launched a court battle over their right to marry. The controversy led to Congress's Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Last year, a federal court upheld Hawaii's ban on same-sex marriages as constitutional. But a wave of new legalization efforts is now afoot.

CT has noted the increasing number of states legalizing same-sex marriage, as well as the increasing emphasis on the legal language of conscience protections.

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Posted:November 14, 2013 at 9:42AM
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