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Governor's Remarks from the Signing of Marriage Equity Legislation

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Gov. Neil Abercrombie:

Aloha everyone, thank you, mahalo nui. Before I begin my remarks … I commented to some today and to my wife that it never, ever, occurred to me that I would one day have both the opportunity and responsibility to do something that is as profound as the change that is to come in a few moments as Patsy Mink was able to accomplish with Title IX that literally changed the universe for women for all time.

Another universe is about to change for all time, and I could not have sustained my commitment -- and had the support necessary emotional and otherwise to do that -- without my wife, Dr. Nancie Caraway. And, together, we have been instructed and informed in a way that helped us sustain our perspective and our perception of what we needed to do by the work of Tony Kushner. We have a particular relationship; we spend a lot of time arguing about Picasso's role in the history of art and so on, and great playwrights, and Tony Kushner has been a singular influence in our life.

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Gov. Neil Abercrombie:

We begin virtually every discourse with one another with the word Aloha. And we all cling to that. We all think to ourselves that we know what it is all about, what it should be, what we want it to be … and I thought today with this profound change that I mentioned about to take place, that perhaps I ought to re-examine it because I was certainly going to get up like everybody else and say "Aloha," and then I started thinking what am I going to say after that?

I thought maybe I ought to think about that word, about Aloha, about what it means. And I remembered that we actually have Aloha and the Aloha Spirit in our laws. It's in our Constitution. Aloha spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and the presence of the life force, Aloha means kindness to be expressed with tenderness, unity to be expressed with harmony, agreeableness to be expressed with pleasantness, humility to be expressed with modesty, and patience to be expressed with perseverance.

I thought of that especially because, when I was asked what my remarks might be, do I have any remarks from when the Senate agreed to the House version of S.B. 1 and it had passed the legislature, I spoke about courage, I spoke about determination, and I then wanted to thank the Legislature for its patient perseverance.

"Where did I get that from?" I thought to myself. And then I realized I channeled the very words that we have as are the foundation of our very state, our obligations to each other as citizens in the State of Hawaii, to express ourselves through Aloha by patience and perseverance. I think that signifies exactly what this is about.

And so then, having discovered that in myself, I picked up my Constitution of the United States. I have a little history of it; it includes the Declaration of Independence, the chronology of it. It even has the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution. So I decided to re-read and to say today exactly what the Legislature has just done:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

I submit to you that S.B. 1 is the epitome of the First Amendment in action.

It's easy to criticize the legislators, and it's easy to criticize individual legislators. It's easy to critique or criticize the actions and words that are spoken, but I will tell you in time to come when the history of S.B. 1 is recorded and commented upon, as it will be, there will be a lot of master's degrees and Ph.D.s put together around this process over the past 20 years. What the Legislature had in mind all the way through including those who ended up in opposition to the bill as it finally emerged, was to see to it that we were able to coordinate civic responsibility and to show respect for and pay attention to the religious beliefs of others that might have put them in opposition.

We're human beings. We cannot guarantee that the hard work the AG and his staff did in working with Clayton (Hee) and Karl (Rhoads) will make certain this respect manifested itself in the language of the bill. We cannot be certain every word and every nuance have been met. That is what amendments are all about. I just read the First Amendment to the Constitution. We couldn't even pass the Constitution originally without putting ten amendments in.

So, it doesn't strike me as strange that we may not have a perfect vehicle here today. But we understand that this is in fact the result of a legislative process which had as its fundamental premise, fidelity to support for upholding the Constitution of the United States and the State of Hawaii. And that was done by legislators, legislators who acted on a premise to represent the greater interest of the public, not necessarily to express their own particular views. And I had re-called and was grateful to have my good friend Professor Henningsen of the University of Hawaii remind me of what I knew was a quote and I couldn't remember where it exactly came from; from Edmund Burke's quote in his acceptance speech when he was elected by the voters of the city of Bristol to the Parliament of Great Brittan in 1774.

And I quote:

"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion … Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament."

And what happened in this Legislature is people set aside even perhaps their own particular views of what might or might not be the greater good, but listened to what their role was in terms of upholding the Constitution, and in moving forward S.B. 1 in such a manner, and with the motivation of acting as a member of a legislature acting for the greater good.

We all have special interests. Everybody in this room has special interests. This bill is a special interest. It's not a question of whether it's a special interest, it's whether it's a special interest that manifests the public interest and not a private interest, and that is what this bill represents, a melding of the special interest involved, that is to say the equity associated with marriage, and the common good, and the public interest as a whole, which is the upholding of the constitution that binds us.

There have been commentaries in our history with regard to the question of religion and democracy. This is not new to us here in the 21st Century. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom, in 1786:

"Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desireable? No more than of face and stature."

Madison in 1833 said:

"I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others."

That's what has been the process here in achieving S.B. 1. The history is there. But, now that I have gone over the history to myself in thinking about this and establishing a solid, I think, legal and legislative foundation. You come down to the question that moves me the most, and that is to say the human dimension. The dimension of depth. Our relationship to one another.

One of the first things that I was able to absorb when Nancie and I visited Queen Liliuokalani's home, Washington Place, that is now my honor and privilege to take responsibility for such time as I am allowed to be governor… There was a picture there as we explored the home of the Queen, and for reasons that are entirely obscure to us, someone had affixed to this picture of the Queen in all her regal splendor, the following words:

"If we could but see our likenesses, could we not learn to be tolerant of our differences?"

That's the Queen speaking; that's the legacy of Aloha; that's the guiding principle that I try to follow. I feel very deeply about the responsibility of being the Kia"āina, the Governor. It's more than just words; it's more than just Aloha. It's a profound, deep and abiding responsibility.

"If we could but see our likenesses, could we not learn to be tolerant of our differences?"

That's the Queen's admonition to us. I think that S.B. 1 satisfies the Queen's desire that we look to see our likenesses with one another and not to see our differences.

And finally, I was moved deeply by some words given to me by our dear friend, of both my wife and I, someone with whom we've shared our highs and lows, our friendship, who has had to be hidden for all of her life, in her heart; feeling that she was marginalized and shut away. She said to us:

"Today is a moment that my community has fought for, for many, many decades. I have spent my entire life waiting for equality. I have spent my entire life waiting for equality to be visible in the world I live in, to be a part of the whole; this courageous, colorful, inspirational, endlessly talented, brilliant like a star community."

Finally, today, now, all those who have been invisible will be visible to themselves and the whole world.

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I know there have been other occasions when, because of the significance of the situation, multiple pens have been used with multiple strokes in order to sign. But today I hope, with all of your indulgence and with your Aloha, you'll allow me to take this koa pen and sign fully and completely, and that you will all approve, that I intend to give this pen that signs this bill, this day, to Judge Levinson.

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Done.


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