On Wednesday, October 30, the Hawaii State Senate voted on SB1 “Relating to Equal Rights”. This is the bill that would grant same sex couples the right to marry each other. The bill passed out of the Senate with a vote of 20 to 4 with 1 excused. Senator Slom was one of the 4 senators who voted “no” on SB1. The following is Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom’s floor speech as given before the vote was taken.
Third Reading: S.B. No. 1
Senator Slom rose to speak in strong opposition to the measure as follows:
“During the past hour, we’ve heard many good comments, many good thoughts; and the curtain is coming down today on the drama that has been this political theater because, in fact, this was not a special session. It was totally scripted, totally politicized. The votes were extracted and taken before we ever met, or we wouldn’t have met. As I said previously on many occasions, there was no reason, no urgency, for a special session devoted to sexual orientation. In the past 12 years, this state has had two special sessions unrelated to the Senate’s advising and consenting to judicial or cabinet nominees. One had to do with the Superferry and the economic implications; the other was called immediately after 9/11 when we were all concerned about what was going to be the future of our state and our nation. To say that the argument for sexual orientation rises to that level is absurd. To say that this is historic is untrue; hysteric, it may be. We should’ve decided it, if at all, during the regular session. Lord knows we’ve spent years and years on this topic.
“For those of you that have not heard me over the past 20 years, I’ve said very loudly and very clearly that the Legislature and government should not be involved in marriage. You did not have to worry about separation of church and state, not in our Legislature, because you didn’t hear a prayer at the beginning of this session. You haven’t heard a prayer in several years because again, special interests who pushed the issue pushed us back. Are we truly the representatives of all the people? I think not.
“I heard mixed arguments this morning; one is that the tide of history has changed, that people have changed, and so we should listen to them–except when it means giving them the right to let the people decide. Then, we don’t want to listen to them. Oh yeah, they’re smart enough to vote for us or not vote at all. The public is smart enough to create a salary commission to give us all salary increases automatically. The people are smart enough to vote for a rail to nowhere, but they’re not smart enough to vote on basic issues.
“And why don’t legislators want the public to vote? Because the public will vote overwhelmingly in opposition to same-sex marriage. The other night during our 12-hour hearing, we had between 6,000 and 8,000 people outside, even more if you looked around the corners and on the lawn and everywhere else. Many of those people did not get an opportunity to testify even though they had signed up to do so. Other people who had signed up early did not get the opportunity to testify, and most of these people, if not all of them, were in opposition. The figures released of those that did get to testify showed that more than 60 percent were in opposition; and yet, we do not want to let the people decide. There’s a real problem with that.
“Hawai’i’s the only state out of the 50 (or 57, as our President insists) that has neither statewide initiative, referendum, recall, or term limits. So, what is the public to do? The public comes down here seeking an opportunity to testify and to participate, and they’re denied that. Then they seek to talk to us, to talk about reason and rationality and law, and our minds had already been made up.
“And now we celebrate a ‘momentous’ time in history, and individuals have gotten up and told about how they have evolved. They’re very proud of their evolution. The Governor evolved from his statements as a candidate in 2010. My colleagues in the Senate and in the House that are running for a higher office have evolved because they stick their finger up in the wind to see where the votes may be, where the activism may be. In full disclosure, I married interracially; I have two beautiful interracial sons. I am not a Christian or a Catholic, yet am religious; and yet, I see a continuing attack, an onslaught, against Christians and Catholics and people of religion in this community and elsewhere. We were told five years ago that our President, his administration, and his followers were going to transform America, the one promise that has been kept. Those that accuse people like me of not evolving, not changing, not going along with the tide and the wave and all of that, stubbornly and steadfastly sticking to tradition and to the Constitution and to what is right–we’re called all kinds of names, and we’ve been given threats as well. By the way, let me say there is no room for non-respect or lack of civility in this or any other discussion, and the fact that we’ve had it is sad.
“This issue should not be part of a legislative agenda, especially when we have an economy in shambles, people out of work, people who can’t afford food or health care or proper education for their children. We heard about education, but we didn’t hear about how we continue to rank lowest among the states in educational attainment. We have a terrible infrastructure. We have problems in health care. We have problems with the homeless, with Native Hawaiians, and others.
“And yet, we champion this cause, which is not about equal rights. It is about extending a privilege. The Loving case does not apply here; it involved a man and a woman. And while there were wrongs committed in our country and they were redressed, calling something ‘equality’ and carving out a right does not necessarily make it so, no matter how loud the voices are, no matter how people champion it like our media (which has been in the bag from the beginning and does not report news), special interest groups, and political parties. By calling an elephant a donkey does not make it so. Marriage is marriage. It is separate. We can have disagreements on that.
“We can talk about equal rights in other areas, but we have become a nation and a state where people every day talk about the new rights that they have. They misconstrue privilege for right, and they misconstrue entitlements for rights. Our rights are God-given, yet we are told now we can’t even allow God in our house. At a time when lawmakers particularly, as smart as we are (and you all know how smart we are) and at a time when we have all of these problems, we are not even allowed to seek divine guidance. And yet, we are listening to the voices who say we represent change, we represent something new. At one point, we’re told to listen to the majority. At another point, we’re told to not listen to the majority. Well, I know a little bit about that, being the only one here in the Senate. This is not a partisan issue, or it should not be; and yet, interestingly enough, some of the activists pop up in the same issues against religion, against prayer, against a free enterprise, capitalist American system–in fact, against America. We have people that say that the Constitution of the United States is outmoded, that it should be changed, it should be ignored selectively. These people have not read and do not understand the Constitution of the United States or the State of Hawai’i.
“We had a 12-hour hearing the other day; 3 years ago, we had an 18-hour nonstop, continuous hearing that I was part of in the Senate. I encourage people to come forward. I encourage people to give their views and opinions. But you should understand that the Legislature is not all-wise and all-seeing. We all have our fallacies and our foibles. For us to make decisions for a community that is so divided now, just like our nation, is not the best use of our time or our resources. I have to say that in listening to everyone, yes, there were some intemperate remarks made; yes, there were repetitive statements made; and yes, there were statements that really were not on point about this issue. Legal scholars, in fact, do differ about whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed and should be taken under the tent of equal rights. They differ, and yet these views, as are my views, are told that we’re out of step. We’re finding more and more in our country and in our legislative bodies that anybody that has a different view is not given that equality of speech; and that’s where this bill fails.
“This bill is an attack on religious freedom and the First Amendment. Make no mistake about it. The so-called ‘protections’ in this bill, as written now, will not protect religious organizations and their facilities. This bill gives additional legal causes of action, and people will use them. They will continue to sue. Years ago, we were told, ‘If you just pass reciprocal beneficiaries, then everything will be fine.’ And then we were told, ‘If you just pass civil unions, then everything will be fine.’ And yet, honestly, those people who have advocated on the front lines for same-sex marriage have always done so, and that’s their right and their privilege, but they haven’t been honest and open about it. Are there problems with reciprocal beneficiaries, domestic partners, and civil unions? Yes, there are. I’ve said over and over again that in those areas that deny people the right to take care of one another or to visit in the hospital or to have power of attorney, those parts of the law that do not meet those standards–then change them. We can do that. That’s something that the Legislature can do. That’s something that the Congress can do.
“But there was a lot of misinformation the other day, including, with all due respect, our former Supreme Court Justice Levinson. First of all, the DOMA law, the Defense of Marriage Act, was not struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. A section was, and it applied primarily to California and New York. The Supreme Court has not ruled that same-sex marriage is both an equal right and deserved. Mr. Levinson talked about Iowa; and he was incorrect because in Iowa, the State Supreme Court struck down the opposite-sex marriage provision, and three of the justices who supported it were removed by the Iowa residents. Of course, we don’t allow election of judges, either, in the State of Hawai’i. Maybe we should revisit that, too, Madam President, because for those people that didn’t like the plantation system in Hawai’i, you’re sitting in the new plantation right here. We tell you what to think. We tell you what to wear. We tell you who to hire. We tell you how much to pay. We tell you that you must have insurance. We tell you all these things. We are the plantation here. We have more monopolies in this state than anywhere else. We have more unholy alliances between businesses and government than any other state. And then we wonder why our people are struggling.
“There are a lot of people that have been afraid in this debate to speak out, and that’s a shame, but they are afraid, for one reason or another. I fully expect that in the next few days, you’re going to hear comments from the Native Hawaiian community about how devastating this law would be to them, and they’ll be more specific about it. But all those people that have been cheerleading, letting us believe everybody’s in favor of this and it’s only those few people that are political misanthropes or social laggards, as was described in a publication the other day–it’s only those that are opposed to this. Let the people vote! Let the people decide! Let’s find out! But we’re not going to do that because everything here has been neatly done, and that’s a shame, and that is not democracy. That reflects poorly on everyone–gay and straight, Republican and Democrat.
“We have problems in this state, and we have not addressed them. We have so much talent here, and it doesn’t matter about your political party or your sexual orientation. But when we try to force people to do certain things that they don’t want to do, that is not positive. This bill will not advance life, liberty, or happiness in this state. This bill will not improve our economic conditions. Oh yes, I know there have been studies saying that if we just do this, wow, we’ll have more people, more gays and lesbians coming to Hawai’i to enjoy our state and spend money. But there will be other people that would be concerned about that lifestyle and concerned about our image. At last count, 14 states, in fact, have legalized some sort of same-sex marriage, which leaves, in my public school math, 36 states that have not. We talk all the time about trying to better the lives of people. If we worked on our economy, if we worked on making Hawai’i a better place, then in fact all people, regardless of their religious outlook, regardless of their sexual orientation, is going to benefit. And that’s what we’re here for. You have to hold our feet to the fire, not just on a single issue, but on what we’re doing for the state. We are all public servants. We all are beholden to you; you pay for everything we do. But you’ve got to be more involved. You’ve got to be more engaged; and don’t let me hear any of you say your vote doesn’t matter, you don’t matter. Your vote on this issue matters. Your vote on every issue matters.
“So, I appeal to my colleagues that before they uncork the bottles of champagne, they should be fully concerned about what this measure and others like it do in our community. We should be working to bring people together. We should be working to help those people who need help. This is not the case. And we’ve learned over the years, and particularly over the last couple of days, that this issue is not about love, it’s not about compassion, it’s not about equal rights–it’s about money! It’s about tax benefits. It’s about federal benefits. Even the attorney general, in his very unique way of answering questions, had to admit that if you want to go to another state–as many people do on a regular basis, including to get married–you will not lose those benefits; you will gain those benefits. But you know what it tells me? It tells me that what I’ve been fighting for the 18 years I’ve been here that are taxes are too high, our government regulations too unfair, the fees and everything that are eating you alive–that’s what we should be doing, that’s what we should be together on on a bipartisan basis.
“So, I’ll leave you with this thought: Passing a law like this is not going to solve our problems. It’s not going to make divisions go away, but it will get people concerned who have been disenfranchised and who realize that their government is going in a different direction from them. It’s not bad to disagree on any issue, and it certainly is not bad to stick up for your beliefs and your rights and your freedom of speech. I believe that this bill will be compromised, and I will continue to oppose it. Thank you.”
Third Reading: S.B. No. 1 – Part 2 Rebuttal
Senator Slom rose to speak in rebuttal as follows:
“We talked earlier, and the majority leader talked about compromise, and I certainly agree with that. I think the mark of any good legislation is the fact that in the end, people have compromised, they come to an agreement, and they can accept what there is. Despite what has been said over and over again, there are no religious protections in this bill as written now. And the proof of that is no religious person who had opposed the original legislation came forward and said, ‘Oh, yeah, you guys really did a good job. You really worked hard. You really were in there together to make sure that there was a balance.’ There is no balance in this bill! It is totally one-sided. So, those people that may be surprised later on after this becomes law (if it does) should not be surprised because we’ve discussed it.
“Madam President, I call for a Roll Call vote.” (The Chair so ordered.)