Last week, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. These mileposts are coming so fast now they barely rate a mention on the nightly news. Ever since the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last summer, nationwide acceptance seems to be a foregone conclusion.
But in the usual parade of capitol-steps rallies and ecstatic same-sex couples embracing and “Equality Now!” placards, a little voice piped up and one little vote said, “No.” Or at least, “Not now.” State Rep. Jo Jordan, originally appointed to fill out another legislator’s term and now serving her first duly elected term, sat day-by-day in the audience chamber and listened to passionate pleas pro and con. She tried, by her own account, to listen as disinterestedly as possible and determine what might be best, not just for a few, but for all the people of Hawaii. It must have been a challenging few days, for she has never hidden her lesbian status. Yet, after the shouting was over and the voting began, she turned in a resounding “nay.” Immediately she was tagged in the media as “the first openly gay lawmaker to vote against marriage equality.”
Of course, everybody wants to know why, and Rep. Jordan’s answers were not models of ringing clarity: “It was really how I was feeling, what was I internalizing from all the 57 hours of testimony. And not just in the room, but when you’re outside the room and seeing people waiting three, four days to stand up there for two minutes. That spoke volumes to me.” Among those people waiting for their two minutes were many advocates for the bill—perhaps as many as were against. But what Jordan took away from the testimonies was that the opposition had a deeply felt point of view that was worthy of respect.
“I totally thought I was going to get blasted by the religious community,” Jordan said, adding that instead they were respectful and grateful for the chance to testify. By her own admission, the blasts she received came from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. “I’m a legislator first and foremost, and I’m not here to promote your pride,” she told representatives from various organizations at an earlier meeting. They assured her they’d be cool with that, but apparently their understanding assumed an acceptable vote.
Jordan’s stated concerns with the law were about religious exemptions and divorce policy, not same-sex marriage itself. But her willingness to listen to all her constituents (not just the ones who agree) is worthy of commendation. It’s also an encouragement to supporters of traditional marriage to keep talking—with respect and gratitude.