LIHUE — With four legislators on hand to field questions at the Lihue Business Association, it took just a few minutes for the conversation to get to what was on many minds: the upcoming special session on the marriage equality bill.
Carl Berg asked each to explain where they stood.
“I feel it’s a major case of discrimination to not allow same-sex marriage,” he said during the Thursday morning meeting at Duke’s Canoe Club.
The bill will be introduced Monday morning and go quickly to the Judiciary Committee in the State Capitol auditorium for public testimony.
Before an estimated 40 people, Rep. Derek Kawakami, District 14, Rep. Dee Morikawa, District 16, Sen. Ron Kouchi, District 8 and Rep. James Tokioka, District 15, offered their answers.
“For me, the number one priority for our job is to make sure we represent the district that we live in,” said Tokioka.
Tokioka said that, in 2007, he mailed around 10,000 surveys, by regular snail mail and e-mail, regarding civil unions. He received about 700 back with 80 percent against and 20 percent for civil unions.
In the last legislative session, he sent out a similar survey, this time on same-gender marriage. And the results? 75 percent against and 25 percent for same-sex marriage.
Tokioka said he is against the same-sex marriage bill because that’s the desire of people in his district.
“My job is to make sure I represent the community that I’m in,” he said.
Kawakami said he “wholeheartedly” supported the marriage equality bill. He called it a divisive issue and a challenging situation.
His decision to support the bill, he said, has more to do with the way he was raised and what he learned early in life. People of many beliefs and lifestyles were welcomed and hired by his family, Kawakami said.
“On one hand, I have my faith (Catholic) that has a clear direction as to what is right and wrong,” he said.
Kawakami said all people should be accepted.
“We should embrace our differences,” he said.
Kouchi had a different view. “I’m not voting in favor of the same-sex marriage bill,” he said. “My reason is simple and the opposite of Derek’s.”
Kouchi said he and his wife became members of Kapaa Missionary Church in 2003.
“I decided, for the first time, to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior and participated in a water baptism ceremony,” he said.
It was clear where the church stood on the issue of same-sex marriage, on abortion and other issues of morality, he said.
“For better or worse, on this particular issue, I’m invoking my constitutional rights to express my freedom of religion,” he said.
Morikawa said she “definitely” supported the bill.
“For me, all committed couples should get the same benefits, state and federal benefits, as any other couple,” she said.
Morikawa said she attended a Christian school growing up and studied the Bible. Today, she is a Buddhist. She noted that some religious organizations are for the marriage equality bill, and others, against it.
“For me, it’s not so much about the religion part, it’s people and the benefits,” she said.
Ferdinand Dosono of Lihue thanked the legislators for attending the meeting, during which the economy, retirement plans and farming bills were also discussed. He said he has friends and relatives who are gay and lesbians.“I love them. They love me,” he said.
But if the bill passes, he said his right to follow what the Bible says would be “extremely diminished.”
“I will be speaking against the law,” he said.
He called on the legislators to put the matter to a vote of the people.
“Forget the controversy, put it to the vote,” he said, as some clapped and a few shouted “Amen,” and “Yes.”
If the bill passes, Hawaii could begin issuing licenses and performing ceremonies for gay couples next month.
A Senate draft of the bill to be considered starting Monday says couples would be able to obtain licenses and be married the same day.