Hawaii gov mulls civil unions with rabbis

Republican Linda Lingle seeks Jewish view on same-sex couples.

gay pride parade 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
gay pride parade 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Two Hawaiian rabbis have had talks with Republican Gov. Linda Lingle ahead of her June 21 deadline to announce whether she may veto the only pending civil unions legislation in the nation.
Rabbis Itchel Krasnjansky and Peter Schaktman hail from different Jewish denominations and hold starkly contrasting views on whether same-sex couples should be permitted to form civil unions in Hawaii.
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Krasnjansky, who heads the Orthodox community group Chabad of Hawaii, said the Torah teaches that homosexuality, and by extension same-sex marriage, "is not something that should be condoned or should be legalized," he said.
But Schaktman, who leads the Reform Temple Emanu-El, insists Judaism teaches that all people regardless of sexual orientation are and should be treated as "children of God," and thus should not face discrimination.
"Civil unions are a legal arrangement," he said. "Therefore, anyone who uses religion to oppose civil unions is purely using religion to further homophobia."
Lingle is Jewish, but has rarely — if ever — publicly discussed her faith in considering an issue. Lingle's office did not respond to phone or e-mail questions about her religious affiliation.
The bill, HB 444, would allow gay and straight couples to establish government-recognized relationships with the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples.
Civil unions and same-sex marriage have roiled Hawaii since the 1990s, generating some of the largest rallies at the state Capitol.
Proposals to permit civil unions have never gained much traction, but in January, the state Senate passed a bill that had stalled last year. It stalled again in the House, but on April 30, the final day of the legislative session, the House revived, passed and sent the measure to Lingle.
Earlier this month, she described how divided Hawaii and its small Jewish community are on the issue, citing as an example the two rabbis she knows personally.
In interviews, Schaktman and Krasnjansky said they got little sense which way the governor was leaning during several conversations with her in recent months.
Krasnjansky said he addressed religion with Lingle, whom he describes as a personal friend. He contends that the Torah, in the Book of Leviticus, clearly deems homosexuality a sin. "The question is, whether the Torah's teachings are eternal and binding, or not," he said.
Schaktman, who noted that Lingle attends Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at his temple, said he shied from using his view of Judaism's teachings to advocate for civil unions.
Rather, he stressed that civil unions would not impact any religion, nor would it validate homosexuality.