Sarah Zoellick

A state Senate committee Monday approved resolutions requesting a task force study the social, economic and religious consequences of enacting marriage equality legislation in Hawaii as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear two landmark same-sex marriage cases.

The high court today will consider the legality of a California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the justices will weigh the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Senate Concurrent Resolution 166 and Senate Resolution 123, calling for the dean of the University of Hawaii law school to convene a task force to study marriage equality. The resolutions now go to the Senate floor.

To mark the Supreme Court hearings, Hawaii's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community will gather for marches and candlelight vigils today and Wednesday. The events are sponsored in part by the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

A handful of supporters met on the Iolani Palace grounds Monday evening to march past Honolulu District Court, U.S. District Court, state Circuit Court and Supreme Court before returning to the palace for a candlelight vigil.

Today's event will focus on racial, ethnic and religious civil rights accomplishments, and the main event on Wednesday will highlight equality efforts made by the LGBT community. All events are scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on the makai lawn of Iolani Palace and are open to the public.

Jo-Ann Adams, a GLBT Caucus member and coordinator of this week's vigils, said she heard that the first man in line to attend the Supreme Court hearings in Washington, D.C., has been waiting out in the elements since Thursday.

"Whether you're for or against or neutral, everybody knows this is historic," Adams said.

Before the Judiciary Committee on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii testified in support of the Senate resolutions. The Supreme Court could repeal the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union only between men and women.

"We believe that will have implications for this state, which is why I believe that this task force is especially timely," said Lois Perrin, legal director for the ACLU.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the two cases sometime this summer.

Nine states, including Hawaii, allow civil unions between same-sex couples, and nine states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

"I believe that this study would be different from other studies given that the other studies were conducted prior to civil unions in Hawaii," Perrin said. "In addition, we didn't have the benefit of looking at all of these other civil union states, given that most of them have been within the last two years."

Groups in support of and opposed to same-sex marriage testified that they believe current studies, including a 1995 report released by the state Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law, are sufficient.

"To me this is a stalling mechanism because the Legislature — both the House and the Senate — doesn't want to take and hear the bill on marriage," said Carolyn Golojuch, president of PFLAG-Oahu. "The studies have been done, folks, by people with more time, more money than Hawaii is going to spend on this present study."

The proposed task force would be made up of:

  • Two "esteemed" attorneys, preferably at least one of whom has served the state or one of its counties.
  • Two business community members, with at least one being from Hawaii's tourism industry.
  • A current or former clergy member.
  • A member of a prominent community organization that advocates for marriage equality.
  • A UH-Manoa economics professor who co-authored a study on the effects of same-sex marriage on Hawaii's economy and government.
  • Appointees of the speaker of the House and Senate president.

Eva Andrade, executive director of Hawaii Family Forum, opposed the resolutions because she said the language is one-sided.

"When you look at all of the reasons to get to the task force, it sounds like it's already stating that same-sex marriage should be legalized," Andrade told the Judiciary Committee. "I mean all of the points are that the people of Hawaii already support it; we've got a president, we've got a governor, that already support it; and the term marriage equality is normally referred to for people that support same-sex marriage."

Walter Yoshimitsu, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference, also testified against the resolutions.

"My opposition is: first of all, it's unnecessary; and secondly, marriage should be between a man and woman," Yoshimitsu said.

Adams said the discussion shouldn't be about religion.

"I think we lose focus because they (opponents) drag religion into this," she said. "This is about the government issuing a license. That's all we're saying, is we want the government to issue a marriage license. We've got plenty of churches that are willing to marry us. Plenty."

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