Monday, May 6, 2013

Opinion Editorial

Representative Chris Lee (Kailua, Waimanalo)

Time for marriage equality has come

By Chris Lee

Exactly 20 years ago today, May 5, 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples constituted basic discrimination.

In response, Hawaii voters supported a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

However, my generation had no say in that debate — we were not yet old enough to vote. Since then, more than 100,000 new voters have come of age in Hawaii, and polls show nearly 80 percent of us now in our 20s and 30s support marriage equality as an important step toward fulfilling the promise of a free and equal country.

Throughout our nation's history, each succeeding generation has fought to expand basic rights, liberties and freedom to Americans previously denied them. Women's suffrage, racial equality and interracial marriage are now commonplace, but all were seen as unacceptable and even immoral in recent history.

Such discrimination might have persisted longer but for the actions of visionary leaders. When the U.S. Supreme Court finally legalized interracial marriage in 1968, just 20 percent of the American public approved of such relationships. How much longer would legalizing interracial marriage have taken if it had to wait for a public vote — or for elected officials too worried about their next election to take action? I wonder how they explain to their grandchildren today that opposing these cornerstones of freedom and equality was the right thing to do?

Fortunately, we are seeing a turnaround in equal rights for same-sex couples.

Our military has rescinded "Don't ask, don't tell," and former President Bill Clinton admits signing it into law was a mistake. By hearing challenges to the "Defense of Marriage Act" and state bans on marriage equality, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled it is keenly aware that constitutional issues exist.

President Barack Obama has given his full support and nine states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. Each year, more Americans support marriage equality — today nearly 60 percent — and worldwide even Catholic countries like Argentina have legalized marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Today, my generation finally has a voice in this debate. We embrace diversity. We look forward to getting married knowing that our marriages will be as strong as our commitment to them, and no one else can diminish that. Many of us have family, friends and neighbors who are gay. They will continue to have relationships and raise children whether we allow them to marry or not. But our Constitution makes it an obligation to treat everyone equally because it is self-evident that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

We cannot speak about tolerance yet remain intolerant, speak about diversity yet let it divide us, or speak about equality and turn our backs upon it. If we pride ourselves on being a free country with all citizens equal, then it is time we act like it.

Just as our parents fought the status quo to legalize interracial marriage and civil rights, we must help ensure individual freedom and equal protection for another group of citizens who have endured discrimination simply for being themselves.

In Hawaii, our courts, elected officials and the general public will inevitably face the question of whether to allow marriage equality. We should look forward to one day telling our grandchildren that when the time came to do the right thing, we supported marriage equality for every citizen.

This opinion editorial was published in the Star-Advertiser on Sunday, May 5, 2013

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