The Painful Path to Same-Sex Marriage in Hawaii

A first-person account of the saga.


(page 4 of 4)

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Young credits pop-cultural forces for the evolution, shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace, and when Ellen DeGeneres came out. “Television and Hollywood helped people understand that [gay people] are like everybody else,” she says. “They’re in our families, they are our families.”

After the dam-breaking flood of national victories for gay marriage during the previous year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie called a special legislative session to deal with the issue in September 2013."

Along with the lawmakers, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of angry citizens showed up at the Capitol, many in blue T-shirts and many of them churchgoers, who noisily demanded that the session be shut down and the issue decided by public vote. The crowd became unruly and overran a press conference organized by a group of 40 religious leaders who had shownup to express publicly their support for same-sex marriage. The ugliness backfired.

The House passed the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act, then the Senate did, and Abercrombie signed the legislation into law on Nov. 13, 2013. It had been 23 years since three same-sex couples who wanted to get married sat down with Honolulu attorney Dan Foley and together decided: Let’s ask our government.

Hawaii was the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. As Jack Law, longtime owner of Hula’s and public face of Honolulu’s gay community, ruefully told me, “At least we’re the 15th state, not the 50th.”

Just days before the climactic vote in the House, educator and kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu published an op-ed in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser excoriating fellow kanaka maoli who had been waving antigay-marriage signs on the streets and going on television and claiming that only traditional Christian marriage could protect ‘ohana values.

“In truth,” she lectured, “pre-contact Hawaiians would have scoffed at the simplistic view of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman,’ and their family arrangements often included and even depended upon relatives in same-sex relationships.”

She closed with this: “I speak on behalf of mahu and those in aikane relationships who are too afraid, too shy or unable to articulate their profound connection to the true native concept of Hawaii—an inclusive society that unconditionally accepts, respects, and loves all people, and that values the full and wondrous diversity of our relationships and families.”


About the Author

Curt Sanburn moved to Hawaii from Connecticut with his family when he was 10 years old. He attended Iolani School and swam for the Aina Haina Swim Club. He graduated from Yale University in 1977. A former editor of the Honolulu Weekly newspaper, Curt Sanburn has been an editor at Gentlemen's Quarterly and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, and a reporter at Life magazine. Sanburn now lives in San Francisco and continues to write about Hawaii affairs.


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