A matter of equality

LIHUE — The journey for Ross Martineau, and his partner Jeff Demma, has been a long one — one that has crossed oceans, state lines and more than 15 years of courtship.

But during a two-week vacation to New York City for the New York City Marathon, the Kauai couple agreed to marry as they watched Senate Bill 1 pass through the Legislature.

“We are absolutely elated about this decision,” Martineau said on Tuesday after returning to Kauai. “It’s incredible to see it (the legalization of same-sex marriage) happening from one side of the U.S. to the other. I was raised in New Hampshire, where same-sex marriage was first passed, and lived in New York and San Francisco.”

The state Senate’s passage of the bill, amended by the state House last week, marked a victory for some island residents who have been waiting — some for at least decade — for same-sex marriage to be legalized in Hawaii.

At one point, nearly two years ago, Wailua resident Madeleine Hiraga-Nuccio said she was not sure if same-sex marriage in Hawaii “was really going to happen in my lifetime.”

But with the passage of the bill Tuesday afternoon, Hiraga-Nuccio said she has a new lease on life.

“The world is changing and I’m glad to see that it’s going in that direction,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s an immense statement about welcoming and acceptance. To have DOMA and Prop 8 overturned and the laws passed here, there’s just an overwhelming sense that the world can be a better place.”

Other residents, however, disagreed. They said citizens made their voices heard in 1998, when a voter-approved constitutional amendment upheld a state legislative measure to ban same-sex marriage.

Kauai Island Ministries Pastor Roy “Rocky” Sasaki said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“I’m really not too happy with the fact that the governor and legislators took the initiative upon themselves to make it a law,” Sasaki said. “It was the people’s choice previously that marriage was reserved between a husband and wife, a man and a woman, so I’m having a hard time with this. They say this is civil rights or whatever, but they have civil unions already and all the rights are given to them, so I have a hard time understanding this.”

Of concern to him and other parishioners, Sasaki said, are the potential effects that same-sex marriage could have on Hawaii’s public school system and the curriculum taught to island keiki.

“Liberal people, even liberal churches and pastors, too, are for this same-sex marriage bill, but I don’t think they realize the impact that it’s going to have on their children, grandchildren and the educational system,” Sasaki said. “If they only knew, I don’t think they would have supported it.”

Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-Wailua-Hanalei, wrote in an e-mail from the State Capitol that the bill’s passage “was an issue of perserving freedom” — a freedom defined by “two polarizing view points on the subject of marriage and its definition.”

“Recognizing that for many people this is a civil rights issue, the question became as to how we could best preserve the religious freedoms of the vast and differing belief systems that make Hawaii home and at the same time protecting the civil rights of a minority group in Hawaii,” Kawakami wrote. “(The bill) represents a fair compromise between protecting civil rights for everyone and ensuring continued freedom of religion.”

Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-Koloa-Niihau, who voted in favor of the bill, said her decision from the beginning was based one key value: equality.

“When you look at the legality of whether it is not constitutional, I think it’s about equal rights and its benefit for committed couples, who are entitled to the same benefits as other married couples — a man and a woman,” Morikawa said. “Of course, people will say, ‘Why rush?’ Well, why not? At what point of time is it time?”

Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-Koloa-Wailua, who voted against the measure, said his vote was based on a survey sent out to his constituents asking them about their stance on same-sex marriage.

The key now, he said, is moving forward to heal the state.

“Mr. Speaker, no matter how we vote, I hope that none of us feel good, because throughout this special session many people were hurt from the testimony on both side of issue,” Tokioka said.

Kawakami agreed and said he hopes the community can rebuild and prosper — just like it did after Hurricane Iniki ravaged the island.

“Moving forward our task is to start the healing process,” Kawakami wrote in an e-mail.

E-mails and phone calls sent to Sen. Ron Kouchi, who voted against the bill, were not returned before press time.

The bill, according to a press release from the Office of the Governor, will be signed at 10 a.m. today in the Hawaii Convention Center’s Liliu Theater.

• Darin Moriki, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0428 or dmoriki@thegardenisland.com. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki

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