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Scrap Yard: What is marriage for?

In February, the state Legislature once again killed proposed bills that would have given civil union partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. We decided to take a step back and ask a more basic question. What is marriage for?

Kelly Rosati
executive director of the Hawai‘i Family Forum and the Hawai‘i Catholic Conference

>> Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman committed to each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and in sickness and health until death do them part. And despite society’s hardly perfect record of fulfilling marriage’s noble intent, the institution remains vital to the health of society.

Marriage is indisputably and empirically the best setting for raising and nurturing children, assuming the marriage itself is not marred by conflict and violence. The institution of marriage is a social one, a cultural one and a natural one adopted by virtually every civilization throughout history. It is not a creation of the state, but rather an institution recognized and valued by the state because of its irreplaceable benefits to children, adults and society.

Modern attempts to redefine and reshape this proven institution to accommodate new social experiments risk our society’s health and welfare.

Leading family scholars have recently asserted that marriage is a crucial social good connected with an impressively broad array of positive effects for both children and adults. As such, society’s success or failure in building a healthy marriage culture is an important matter of public concern.

Husbands and wives who love and respect each other, spend time together, value their relationship, love their children, spend time with their children, teach them right from wrong, and model service to their community are not only a balm to society, but the key to its future.

“Marriage is something more than a mere contract,” wrote former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field in 1888. “It is an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”

Eduardo Hernandez
executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center

>> In 2007, the struggle for equality for same-sex couples and their families continues around the world. In Hawai‘i, a broad coalition of civil rights activists, faith leaders, educators, healthcare providers and others have been championing a bill to establish civil unions at the Legislature this session.

Why is this so essential? Clearly, the most important requisites for a family are love, honor and respect. However, a legal framework describing rights and responsibilities provides an important cornerstone for couples trying to create a union and a family. Think of the time, not long ago, when people of different races were prohibited from marrying. Though equal before God and their peers, a mixed-race couple in the 1950s experienced profound discrimination simply for loving one another.

Today, gay and lesbian couples across Hawai‘i face similar discrimination. We are treated unequally before the law when it comes to taxation, adoption and parenting rights, access to health and other insurances and even in the system of dissolution. We seek equal protection in these areas, because when our families are stronger, we are better positioned to contribute to the communities in which we live and work. Civil unions add capacity and capability to the foster-care system serving youth in need. Equality under the law without regard to gender is required by the state constitution.

Gays and lesbians are your aunties and uncles, your brothers and sisters. We sit next to you in church. We serve as officers of the Honolulu Police Department protecting your neighborhood. We are educators teaching students in schools and universities across Hawai‘i. We are kanaka maoli, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Samoan and everything in between. We deserve the same respect for our families as all families.

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,April

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