THE NATIONAL “GAY MARRIAGE” ISSUE BEGINS

In 1994, Scott Foster broke with many of the very Gay organizations in Hawai’i he had helped to create when he strongly advised a newly-active political segment of the Hawai`i LGBT community against using the word “marriage.” He later wrote, “While we certainly agreed that all people in committed relationships should enjoy the same economic and legal rights that marriage provides and philosophically supported the right to marry, my political ohana felt that ‘marriage’ was just not politically possible to achieve in 1994 and the very use of the word would no-doubt coalesce and empower the right-wing Christian fundamentalists. We were certain that this misguided effort would cost us very dearly were we to force our friends at the legislature to take a public stand on the issue.

We believed that we should get our state bundle of rights in place by statute and let people ‘get married’ if they wanted — or not. Either way, at that point in time it would have not affected the important federal rights such as survivorship re Social Security, retirement pensions, the military, etc. We still had a long way to go in the states before we could go after the federal benefits and much of our hard-won groundwork was being put at risk because of the use of the word ‘marriage'”.

“Besides that fact, a deal had been struck the previous year with House and Senate Leadership in order to get the State’s Employment Protection legislation passed in the first place. We had promised to not bring our next Gay-rights action — protection in housing — forward the following session because it was an election year. The Gay Marriage proponents virtually ignored all of this.” Foster tried in vain to sway the community to instead wait a year and then seek Domestic Partnership legislation but he was not able to convince the political novices.

By then, Scott had been retained as the Director of Communications for the underdog candidate for Governor, the Lt. Governor Ben Cayetano. Scott was pleased to learn first-hand of Cayetano’s supportive position on Domestic Partnerships. Early in the campaign (and to the great consternation to some of his campaign advisers), Cayetano said, “I think the state should get out of the business of marrying people and leave that to the churches. Government should deal only with the legal aspects of such personal partnerships.”

As Scott relates, “I was in the room when Ben Cayetano told his gubernatorial campaign leaders his position and the silence was deafening. Unfortunately, the public took Cayetano’s positive position on Domestic Partnerships [aka Civil Unions] to mean he supported ‘Gay Marriage’ — and the phones began to ring off the wall. It got very nasty. Even though I wrote a phone script for anyone answering the campaign phones to use to articulate the Lt. Governor’s position on Domestic Partnerships, I was the one to whom literally all of the calls were directed. No one else in the campaign would deal with the ‘uncomfortable’ issue.

So there I was, taking virtually all the heat on the very thing that I had warned the Gay community against. It was the most demoralizing period of my life because I had to listen to all of those hateful calls for 12 hours a day without any relief. Not one single other openly Gay person set foot near the Cayetano Campaign.”

During his 1998 re-election campaign, Governor Cayetano held steadfast to his original support for Domestic Partnerships and he was literally demonized by the Gay community and its supporters for his public position against “Gay Marriage.” Foster notes, “The Governor had never once wavered from his original position supporting Domestic Partnerships. Hearing only what they wanted to hear, the Gay community very nearly cost the election for the most-powerful political friend we ever had.”

Scott and several other LGBT political veterans completely withdrew from Hawaii’s Gay political arena and was forced to witness the ensuing electoral bloodbath. Scott recalled, “People fled back into their closets in droves as the debacle played out in the media and at the polls during the following years.”

2009RRrally3
The Radical Right’s “Red Shirt” gang protesting Marriage Equality at the Hawai`i State Capitol.

The 1996 legislative elections indeed validated Scott’s original argument when the Democrats who had led the “Gay Marriage” effort in the State Legislature were virtually all targeted and all defeated by the then-well-organized Radical Right Christian fundamentalists. Supportive Representatives Devon Nekoba, Annelle Amaral, Rey Graulty, Len Pepper and Jim Shon were all defeated.

As former Representative James (Jim) Shon (one of the defeated legislators) later observed, “The issue was also important in derailing attempts to change leadership in the House, and Speaker Joe Souki [an old-guard status quo Conservative Democrat] kept his position. The Same Sex marriage issue also pretty well broke apart the integration of the Gay community with the health care agenda, as there was a lot of support for HIV funding, the needle exchange program, etc.”

“Moderates were by then getting comfortable in dealing with Gay activists and organizations for common purposes relating to health. Also there are a number of progressives who might have been elected but lost because of it as well. The key is to look at the 1996 election returns, both the primary and general.”

“Then in 1998 came the Hawai`i State Constitutional amendment. The Gay marriages and supportive court rulings during the last few years further heightened resentments against Liberals and have contributed to an infusion of energy and passion in the conservative religious groups, and further made it more difficult to bring back blue collar Democrats who have now gotten into the habit of voting Republican.”

Scott and his bloodied political hui could do nothing but stand and watch with mouths agape as the “Gay Marriage” issue quickly swept across the entire country; “a bitter, ugly, high-profile battle with us losing in virtually every state.” On September 21, 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). NOTE: In a surprising turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA Section 3 on June 26, 2013.

After the Hawai`i constitutional amendment debacle, 46+ states (11 in 2004 alone) passed some version of Hawaii’s Defense of Marriage statute and immediately after the 2004 elections, President George Bush again introduced a constitutional amendment. The Federal Marriage Amendment was introduced in the United States Congress five times: in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and again in 2013 after the Supreme Court action. The legislation remains alive today. Read corroborating views HERE and HERE.

Amazingly and to the Hawaii State Legislature’s credit, after the loss of so many supportive legislators in 1996, the Hawai`i Reciprocal Beneficiaries law was enacted on July 8, 1997 and it provided limited state rights to same-sex couples, relatives and friends. The law represented “… a commitment to provide substantially similar government rights to those couples who are barred by law from marriage. “Among the benefits extended to non-married reciprocal beneficiaries under the law were: property rights, including joint tenancy; the right to visit your partner in a hospital and make health care decisions for her or him; the ability to inherit property without a will; and protection under Hawaii’s domestic violence laws.”

Foster later observed, “It was all absolutely insane. The original “Gay Marriage” proponents — with the best of intentions — to this day likely do not realize what grave damage their ill-conceived actions caused. In all probability, the political stature once enjoyed by Hawaii’s Gay community will not be regained for decades. I have no doubt that the Same Sex Marriage issue in Hawai`i was the organising impetus for the Radical Right here in Hawai`i and indeed nationally. While we may never know for certain, the misguided Hawai`i effort may have culminated in the defeat of Senator John Kerry for President of the United States and the election of George Bush.”

After the Hawai`i Gay Marriage debacle, Scott returned to his long-neglected personal business, later writing, “While working with the Hawai’i State Legislature for HIV funding, job protection and Needle Exchange, I observed many issues being neglected, mismanaged or inappropriately controlled by the political powers in Hawai`i, issues affecting us all, and I want to somehow work for positive change.”

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