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Gay marriage exemption ineffective, priest says

By Pat Gee

LAST UPDATED: 1:48 a.m. HST, Oct 26, 2013

The religious exemption of the marriage equality bill now being drafted by the Hawaii Legislature will do little to protect the religious freedom of churches and individuals who believe homosexuality is a sin, says the Rev. Allen Cardines of the Hope Chapel Nanakuli church, and a major organizer of various Christian community groups.

"The exemption ... is merely all shibai," Cardines said in an interview this week on the position of many evangelical Christians on the landmark legislation. "It can't work. It can't work. If you look at church in the context of people that have a belief system based on the Bible and the faith in Jesus Christ, it does nothing to protect them."

He added: "A number of people feel that church happens only on Sunday and all they do is preach a message or hold weddings, funerals and baptisms, but actually church is people with a belief system who practice their faith 24/7, 365 (days a year). So basically, church is not an institution, it's the people.

"Our people include teachers, so in that case, if same-sex marriage is passed, will teachers be forced to teach that curriculum? We're also students -- will students be forced to stay in the classroom and listen to that? Will parents be able to opt out, or will they be notified if the curriculum is changed? And that's just the education system. We can go on and on and on."

Cardines, program director of the Catholic-connected Hawaii Family Forum, is also chairman of the Hawaii Pastors Roundtable and president of Transformation Hawaii, two multidenominational activist groups.

In the latest draft of a gay marriage bill, to be decided at a special legislative session starting Monday, the religious exemption states that clergy have constitutional rights under state and federal laws to refuse to perform gay weddings at facilities or on properties regularly used for religious purposes and for its members.

But churches would be subject to the state's public accommodations law if religious facilities operate a for-profit service open to the general public, and that's where churches can be most vulnerable, Cardines said. He cited lawsuits being filed across the nation for discrimination against gays, including a Hawaii Kai bed-and-breakfast owner charged in April under the public accommodations law for not renting to a gay couple in 2007.

There could be disputes over how official membership to a church should be defined, and a proposed revision to allow "approved guests" to use facilities could also be subject to argument, Cardines said. Relatives or friends who attend the church are often nonmembers, especially during special services like Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas, so, he asked, would the church be considered a public accommodation in this case?

"That public accommodation (clause), that cancels out everything. Even if we did have all the language we want ... the religious exemption language is meaningless because who is the government to tell the church what they are allowed to do? The government is trying to tell us how we can and cannot run our church," in violation of First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, speech, the press and assembly, Cardines added.

"A lot of people think church just has Sunday service, weddings and such, but we do a lot more than that. We do after-schools service, we do preschools, we do disaster preparedness. We do a lot of things the government thinks may not be religious, but for us, we're loving God and loving our neighbors. So that's a huge problem right there," he said.

Cardines was one of the key authors of a statement against same-sex marriage, released by the Pastors Roundtable on Monday. The organization represents 200 congregations and includes about 37 pastors, most of whom are evangelical, he said.

The news release focused on the belief that "marriage is a lifelong commitment between one woman and one man," according to Genesis 1:27-28. During one of the most divisive issues in history, the group also urged both sides of the same-sex marriage controversy to "treat each other with kindness and compassion," affirming that homosexuals deserve dignity and respect.

He continued, "We gotta learn how to be humble and not grumble when we're waiting to testify. We need to learn how to bless and not blast. We gotta be peacemakers and not troublemakers. And at the special session we have to be persuasive, not abrasive."

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