House Bill 444 draws a clear distinction between marriage and civil unions, stating in definitive language that they are not the same, as opponents claim.
Right off the bat, in Section 1 of HB 444, it says the Legislature does not intend to redefine Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 572, which defines marriage and the eligibility for marriage. In Section 572.1, marriage is clearly stated as being between a man and a woman.
HB 444 also answers another common misconception of those who oppose it. The claim is made by some that pastors will be forced to perform civil unions between same-gender couples. In Section 4(b) of HB 444, it states that someone who is authorized to perform marriages or civil unions is not required to perform them, nor will they be penalized for refusing to perform either. In other words, religious leaders are absolutely free to refuse to perform civil unions, just as they have the freedom to refuse to officiate at marriages that do not meet their institutions’ (congregations’) criteria for marriage.
While marriages and civil unions are both recognized as legal and binding contracts between consenting, unrelated adults, a marriage is considered to be a civil union by the state — but religious institutions are entirely free to say that a civil union is not a marriage and therefore is not a sacrament in their eyes.
Any religious institution (congregation) can view civil unions as just a cold, legal contract, without the blessing and the social acceptance of that religious institution (congregation).
HB 444 is very much in keeping with the opening lines of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which says, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men (persons) are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
We, the undersigned of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii, support those ideals of the Declaration and believe that HB 444 is also consistent with those "unalienable rights." We further believe that in creating us equal, the Creator gave all of us the gift of sexuality, including sexual orientation. The granting of civil unions fits exactly into and especially applies to the basic freedom of the "pursuit of happiness."
We therefore urge Gov. Linda Lingle to allow HB 444 to become law.