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Minority rights never advanced by popular vote

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By Tambry Young and Suzanne King

On the morning of July 6, Gov. Linda Lingle, pinned and honored a new Brigadier General at a ceremony witnessed by a large group of uniformed servicemen and women.

A few hours later, in that same room, with representatives of a number of LGBT families on hand, she vetoed HB444, the civil unions bill that would have extended the benefits and protections afforded by marriage to all Hawaii families. Families like ours who are raising a bright, well-adjusted daughter with all the hopes and aspirations any parent feels about what the future holds, are devastated.

What is striking about the two events in one day is the unembarrassed lip service it paid to oft-trotted out slogans like “support our troops” and “equality and justice for all.” We know from recent research that people in Hawaii by a ratio of 2:1 approve of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Yet apparently, Lingle feels that it would not have been appropriate to seize this historic opportunity to extend the rights and benefits of marriage to LGBT members of the military even as we welcome their readiness to risk their lives in service to their country.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona for one, felt it was too much pressure on one individual in an election year to be asked to make a decision of this import. We believe the people of Hawaii have a right to expect that someone who seeks the highest office in the state won’t balk at the responsibility that comes with it.

Providing same-sex couples and their families legal recognition is a responsibility Lingle has chosen to pass on, as she suggested, to the “people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth.”

Had others ducked their responsibility the way Lingle did or stood in the way of progress by keeping women confined to roles defined by the familiar norms of society, her own career would not have been possible.

Without political leaders who recognized that the American project is about expanding the meaning of “we the people,” Lingle would not have become the governor of Hawaii. America’s representative form of democracy was designed precisely to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Such votes too often abridge the rights of minorities or those who are seen as “other.”

Many of those who spoke out against civil unions were couples in inter-racial marriages.

Again, had it been left to the people to decide “behind the curtain of the voting booth” these couples would not have been able to get married. It took the Loving vs. Virginia decision of 1967 to make interracial marriage possible in the U.S. That Supreme Court ruling pointed out that to deprive people of the right to marry on the basis of race is “directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment” and deprives “all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

It took Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 to decide that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The cause of justice and minority rights is seldom advanced by popular vote. We elect leaders with the hope that they will have the courage to honestly and impartially serve the needs of the entire community.

Neither justice nor the rights of the LGBT minority were served by Lingle’s decision to veto HB444. Our disappointment only strengthens us for the work we will continue to do to ensure equal rights not just for ourselves but for all LGBT families in Hawaii.

We refuse to yield to the tyranny of the majority “behind the curtain of the voting booth” or to forfeit our claim to the principle of equality enshrined in both our federal and state constitutions.

(Tambry Young and Suzanne King are members of Citizens for Equal Rights)

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