Monday, April 25, 2005

Mormons, Gays reach detente...

This is what can happen when opposites come together. Good job and kudos’ to all involved.

Mormon, gay advocates compromise on Hawaii housing discrimination bill


HONOLULU -- When local gay rights activists decided they needed to put through a law this year protecting the housing rights of gay and transsexual people, they looked for help from an unexpected source -- the Mormon church's Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

"They wanted to see if we could reach a compromise. And we thought that would be a great thing if we could do that," said Steve Hoag, who participated in the unprecedented negotiations as an attorney representing the church school.

The measure first introduced in 1998 passed the Legislature last week. It amends an existing law to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the criteria that can't be used as the basis for denying housing.

Another bill passed by lawmakers adds gender identity to a law banning discrimination in the work place.

While the bills still need to be reviewed by the administration, Gov. Linda Lingle has said in the past that she supports anything that reduces discrimination and is likely to support the bills, said her spokesman, Russell Pang.

BYU had consistently opposed the housing measure because it felt it could be used by residents of its dormitories to challenge the code of conduct signed by every student proscribing sexual activity outside marriage.

The result of the discussions between the advocates and BYU was an antidiscrimination law with a fairly narrow exemption for accommodations owned or operated by a religious institution or religiously affiliated higher education housing program.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already ban sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

And it is not unusual for civil rights laws, including those that don't mention sexual orientation or gender identity, to exempt religious institutions.

What is different about Hawaii's proposed housing law is the dialogue that happened between gay rights groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Matt Forman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The Mormon church, along with the Roman Catholic church and some evangelical Protestant congregations, have led the opposition to same-sex marriage nationwide, including Hawaii.

Discussions on the topic have been heated for each side.
"That is what I think is the most remarkable part of the story -- not so much the outcome but that in fact ... there was a genuine attempt on both sides to reach out and have a genuine human dialogue. That is something that we rarely experience," Forman said.

It was the bill's sponsor, Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-Aiea-Halawa, who suggested that rights groups sit down with BYU, said Ken Miller, executive director of The Center, an advocacy group in Honolulu.

"And once we started to go through this process we realized, 'OK. It was valid, their concerns,"' said Miller, one of a core group of about six people who advocated for the bill.

Though in an ideal world no exemptions would ever be necessary, the current bill was something its champions decided they could live with, he said.

Testimony during last year's hearing on a similar bill was contentious, so sitting down this year to talk was a happy surprise for everyone, Hoag said.

"It was nice to bury the hatchet and to work together," the lawyer said of the process of devising language each side could accept.

Protecting the First Amendment, including the expression of one's religious beliefs, is what has held the United States together for 200 years, said Steve Baines, senior organizer for religious affairs with the First Amendment advocacy group People for the American Way.

The government should not force local houses of worship to accept gay and transgender issues, said Baines, a Baptist minister.

So the effort in Hawaii would seem to be something that should be encouraged elsewhere, he said.

"I'm not naive enough to believe that we can clear all hurdles with one state's example. But I would like to be able to think that other states and ... federal elected officials would be able to say, 'This is a way, a model of which we can move nondiscrimination legislation forward in our country," Baines said.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D3.


Blogger TheDevilIsInTheDetails said...

And on a lighter note than pure scope trial , check out the funniest trial transcript ever! If it's not serious enough of a topic, well, just pretend it's the Brit's version of scope trial !

4:13 AM  

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