Churches get extra exemptions in same sex marriage bill

Churches get extra exemptions in same sex marriage bill
Published: Nov. 7, 2013 at 12:08 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2013 at 12:20 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The version of the same sex marriage bill still alive added some extra exemptions specifically for churches but not their members.

Churches would be exempt for both the solemnization and the celebration of a marriage, meaning they don't have to provide goods, services or facilities to a gay couples wedding ceremony or reception.

Clergy can refuse to solemnize a marriage for virtually any reason and not be punished. Churches will also be protected if they refuse to allow a couple access to their facilities or buildings for the ceremony or celebration. And churches with their own services like musicians, photographers or caterers can also refuse to work at a same sex couples marriage.

"It doesn't apply to outside vendors, individuals, private businesses, but it does apply to the church," said Bill Hoshijo, Hawaii Civil Rights Commission Executive Director.

Private companies and businesses separate from a church still cannot turn down a same sex couple even if they are members of a church and it's against their own personal belief. That was the case even before this special session and will remain in place no matter what the outcome is on the same sex marriage bill.

"If they offer goods, services, etc. to the public then they can't discriminate," said Hoshijo.

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission is already trying to think of all the different scenarios that come up. However it isn't expecting a rush on complaints if the same sex law passes, just like there weren't any complaints filed by same sex couples regarding civil unions.

"I really don't anticipate a substantial, large number of complaints stemming from, flowing from, resulting from the enactment of a marriage equality bill," said Hoshijo.

Some say same sex marriage is not a civil rights issue but Hoshijo, who hears civil rights complaints says it is.

"Both in the court's view and the legislature's view sexual orientation discrimination is a civil rights issue," said Hoshijo.

If a church has a café for example and a gay couple came in for lunch the church cannot refuse to serve them. That would be a violation. The exemptions are only for marriages ceremonies and celebrations.

Governor Neil Abercrombie and Attorney General David Louie have accepted the added exemptions and released the following statement:

"The amendments outlined in House Draft 1 strike a balance between the bill that was introduced by the Legislature and concerns raised in written and oral testimony during public hearings.

"We support the principle that any measure on marriage equity must protect religious freedom, which the Legislature has clearly worked to achieve.

"The bill as amended is legally sound and is in accord with the Hawaii State Constitution.

"We urge the Legislature to pass this bill, which will provide marriage equity and fully recognize religious beliefs in that context."

To read the text of the SB1 HD1 click here.

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