HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two religious leaders in Hawaii are engaged in a debate over same-sex marriage, a debate that ensued after an Episcopal minister preached a sermon critical of Hawaii's Catholic bishop.
The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest religious denominations in Hawaii, with more than 200,000 members in the islands. Bishop Larry Silva recently wrote what he called an "urgent letter to all Catholics regarding same-sex marriage."
In the letter, the bishop said the Catholic Church is clear that true marriage can only be between one man and one woman.
"Marriage is an institution, not a person," Silva told Hawaii News Now. "And when we're talking about an institution, we have to be discriminating between what is true marriage and what is not true marriage."
Being against same-sex marriage, according to Silva, is not unjust discrimination.
"When we're talking about gay people and straight people, we're all equal in dignity, no doubt about that," said Silva. "And there's no excuse for unjust discrimination against either."
In the letter, Silva wrote, "We discriminate quite justly between adults and minors, even though both have equal dignity. We justly discriminate between those who are married and those who are not, because marriage is a special societal bond that assures the continuation of the race in the context of raising children."
"I think we all know God is love. But frankly, from his letter, I don't read a lot of love, either his or God's," said Rev. Liz Zivanov, rector at St. Clement's Episcopal Church in Makiki, in her Sunday morning sermon.
"Let me also remind the bishop and other conservative leaders that they do not represent all Christians. They do not. They are not better Christians than those of us who hold different beliefs," she told the congregation.
The exchange comes after religious leaders came out both for and against same-sex marriage, and after it was announced that the state legislature would not hold a special session to address the issue.
A lawmaker who supports same-sex marriage welcomes the debate in the religious community.
"There are many, many people of many, faiths, and no one religious has a monopoly on faith," said Rep. Della Au Belatti (D-Makiki, McCully, Manoa, Pawaa). "So I think what we're hearing and what we're seeing is that there's a difference of opinions, and how do we as political leaders strike the balance."
Bishop Silva also said he would prefer that the issue go to a vote of the people. "The Democratic process means that, you know, we have different ideas and we should talk about them," he said.
Most of the congregation applauded after Zivanov completed her sermon.
"Well, we have a lot of gay members in our church. And we have a lot of gay couples. And I think that they should be able to be married," said longtime parishioner Pam McCoy.
Zivanov said she normally doesn't preach political sermons, but in this case, "I had to do it," she said. "I just felt called to do it, so I did, and I hope I did it respectfully -- but it just had to be said."