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Testimony of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women

Cathy Betts, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, delivered this testimony on SB1 on Monday.

Hawaii Independent Staff

On behalf of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, I would like to thank the Committee for hearing this bill and for the opportunity to testify in support. The Commission strongly supports marriage equality for all in Hawaii. Just this year, the United States Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) constituted unlawful discrimination and thereby violated the United States Constitution.i While Hawaii has always been ahead of this curve (see Baehr v. Lewin) , our own civil unions are not recognized under federal law and same sex couples are not allowed to marry. In turn, our GLBT community members are not treated equally under the law.

The Commission believes that all people should be treated with equality and respect. Hostility and violence towards our GLBT community very closely mimics hostility and violence towards women. As women are punished for not acting “female enough”, or “acting too male” and venturing out of the close confines of gender roles, our GLBT members are punished for not closely conforming to strict and unrealistic gender roles or for being gender non-conforming through a heterosexual lens. Additionally, this homophobia reminds boys to “toughen up”, stop “acting like a girl” and otherwise eschew any stereotypically female traits. This provides a disservice to both men and women in all relationships. Further, it narrows our view of what constitutes “normal”, limiting the broad spectrum of differences in the ways people express their individual sexuality and sexual orientation.

Marriage, as a social and cultural institution, is always evolving. What began in “traditional marriage” as a contract for chattel and a transfer of property ownership—where fathers of women to be married “transferred” ownership of their daughters to another man for a fee (e.g. money, property, land, animals, etc.) has completely evolved to suit a different reality. We can remember a time when something as common as inter-racial marriage was viewed as “abnormal”, “unnatural” and against the will of God—social views that supported the notion that these marriages should be illegal. As no surprise, these restrictions on marriage were shot down as being inconsistent with our 14th Amendment, Equal Protection Clause.

Looking back on these landmark decisions building up to Windsor, our legislature has an opportunity to move towards a greater and more inclusive justice and equality for all of Hawaii’s people.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We urge this Committee to continue on this path towards justice and pass marriage equality. We also urge this Committee to oppose any exemptions that weaken our public accommodations protections, which were enacted to prohibit illegal discrimination.

Thank you for your time and consideration.