To: Members of the Legislature and the general public
From: Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.
Re: Special Session SB1, Marriage Equality
Date: October 24, 2013
If you recognize my name, it's probably because of my activism in opposition to race-based political sovereignty for ethnic Hawaiians -- I oppose the Akaka bill, and the Kau Inoa, Kana'iolowalu racial registries which the Legislature has endorsed.
But on this occasion I'm writing to support the concept of marriage equality.
My position on both of these issues derives from my fundamental commitment to equality.
I believe we are all equal in the eyes of God, and we should all be treated equally under the law by our government -- regardless of race, and regardless of gender or sexual preference.
I also believe in the separation of church and state. So regarding Hawaiian sovereignty, I believe it's unconstitutional and immoral for our government to establish the ancient Hawaiian religion as having a privileged position in government decision-making regarding "sacred land" or "sacred taro" or what to do when bones are discovered during construction projects.
In the same way, I believe we should separate the religious aspect of marriage from the civil aspect. A church should see only the religious aspect of marriage, as a sacred ceremony uniting souls in the eyes of God. Government should see only the civil aspect of marriage as a contractual partnership, enforced by government, whereby the partners acquire legal rights and responsibilities related to property, financial support, taxation, child custody, etc.
A religious institution should have the right to solemnize a marriage, or refuse to solemnize a marriage, solely in accord with its theology or prejudices, untrammeled by any government laws or regulations. Indeed, if a Muslim imam chooses to marry a man to 4 wives, that should be a matter entirely between the man, the 4 women, the imam, and God; with no interference from the government.
However, a marriage performed by a priest, minister, rabbi, or imam should have no legal consequences, and should never be authorized beforehand by the government nor certified afterward by the government. The famous final words spoken by priests in a marriage ceremony should never be spoken anymore: "Now by the authority vested in me by the State of Hawaii I hereby pronounce you ..." No priest should have any authority vested in him by the government, and whatever a priest does regarding marriage should have no consequences for the government. It violates the separation of church and state when the state grants a particular religion or reverend the right to function as an agent of the government to sign a government certificate of marriage conferring government benefits such as tax exemptions or rights to financial support.
People wishing to create a contractual relationship with rights and responsibilities enforced by government must get a license issued by the government. The government should create a booklet comparable to the "Rules of the Road", written under authorization of the Attorney General, specifying what are the rights and responsibilities; and prospective partners should be required to pass a test to demonstrate their knowledge of those rights and responsibilities before they can get a license from the government.
When doctors, dentists, lawyers or business executives decide to form a partnership, the government does not inquire into their genders or whether they are having sexual relations or what kind of sexual relations they engage in. The same should be true regarding governmental certification of marriage as a civil partnership.
"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." Let neither church nor government interfere with the kuleana of the other. Let a church allow or prohibit same-gender marriage according to its own theology and prejudices, regardless of governmental laws; but marriages performed by churches should not be recognized or certified by government and should have no legal consequences. Let government certify marriages having legal consequences in the same way it certifies business partnerships, regardless of the genders or sexual practices of the partners. If a church operates its facilities as a business, performing marriages for fee-paying non-members, then the church should be subject to the same regulations regarding non-discrimination in public accommodations as any other business, and should be required to pay taxes on its business income and its real property.
People wanting to get married should be able to choose either a sacramental marriage in a church, or a civil marriage licensed by the government; or they may choose to have both. Most people will probably want both. But they cannot get both through the same ceremony or at the same time or place.
Thank you for your attention to my thoughts.
** Note for this webpage: Ken Conklin published a more detailed analysis of this topic on September 22, 2009, on a webpage "Civil Union and Marriage" at
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