MassResistance goes Hawaiian
Brian Camenker, the Newton activist who leads the anti-gay group MassResistance, may be a familiar face to lawmakers in Massachusetts, but he is having an impact on the civil union debate thousands of miles away in sunny Hawaii.
Pat Gozemba, an activist and historian who lives in Massachusetts but spends four months each year in Hawaii, has gotten involved in the lobbying effort to pass a civil union bill in her adopted state. As she sat in the state Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee hearing room Feb. 24 waiting to deliver testimony in favor of the bill she said the rhetoric used by some of the senators on the committee who were opposed to the bill sounded eerily familiar. Gozemba, who co-authored Courting Equality, a book chronicling the marriage equality movement in Massachusetts, had followed Camenker’s work, and when one senator on the committee claimed that same-sex marriage had produced an upswing in HIV/AIDS cases in Massachusetts she recognized the bogus claim from a report Camenker wrote last October called "What Same-Sex ’Marriage’ Has Done to Massachusetts."
"The AIDS data was the first thing that raised [my suspicions], I was like, wait a second, I’ve heard this before. And then Sen. Mike Gabbard pulled out Heather Has Two Mommies and said these are the kinds of books that have to be taught in Massachusetts, and I thought, I recognize this," said Gozemba. Camenker’s report claims same-sex marriage has led to the inclusion of LGBT-inclusive books in Bay State school curricula, although it does not single out Heather Has Two Mommies by name.
Gozemba said while sitting in the hearing room she noticed that a woman sitting next to her wearing a sticker announcing her opposition to civil unions had a copy of Camenker’s report in her lap. When it was her turn to testify Gozemba, who married her partner Karen Khan in 2005 in Massachusetts, rebutted some of the claims made by Camenker in his report.
Currently, the outlook of Hawaii’s civil union bill is uncertain. The bill has already passed in the House and Jo-Ann Adams, a member of the Hawaii Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus and lead lobbyist for the civil union bill, said it has veto-proof majority support in the Senate. But the bill hit a roadblock when the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee failed to vote it out of committee; committee-members were split three to three. Supporters of the bill are urging the Senate to take the unusual step of voting to remove the bill from the committee and bring it up for a full vote.
Adams said advocates learned after the committee hearing that churches opposed to civil unions e-mailed copies of Camenker’s report to the entire membership of the Senate. Last week Adams and Gozemba lobbied senators, and Gozemba provided them with a document she wrote rebutting many of the arguments made in the report. Adams said the small minority of senators opposed to the bill have been distancing themselves from Camenker’s report.
"Mostly we talked to staff. The feedback we got from staff who oppose the bill [has been to] say, ’Oh no, the senator is not basing his position on that piece,’" said Adams.
Among lawmakers who are supportive or on the fence Adams said Gozemba was able to persuade many that Camenker’s claims were not credible.
"I think it was reassuring for them to have something that counters his piece. ... I was amazed at how well she went over," said Adams.
Camenker’s report is posted on the MassResistance website, and there is no indication that he has had any direct contact with anti-gay activists in Hawaii. Camenker did not return a call to comment for this story. Adams said she believed the churches that sent the report to the Senate received it from the Hawaii Family Forum (HFF), the lead advocacy group working to oppose the Hawaii civil union bill. HFF has a downloadable copy of the report on its website as part of a collection of resources for churches to learn about civil unions.
Dennis Arakaki, executive director of HFF, said his organization was not directly involved in distributing Camenker’s report to lawmakers. He also said he did not believe the report had been uploaded to the HFF website.
"They were distributing [it] among some of the churches, but as far as I know not to legislators. Anyway we didn’t do that. ... Someone, one of the pastors brought it to our attention, but we’re not going to use it unless we can confirm the source," said Arakaki.
Contrary to Arakaki’s claim the report is on HFF’s website and is credited to Camenker.
Gozemba, who has been coming to Hawaii regularly either as a visitor or part-time resident since 1980, said that when she got involved in the civil union debate in Hawaii she did not expect to encounter anything having to do with Camenker.
"It was like déjà vu, here it was, following me 6000 miles away in the middle of the Pacific, Brian Camenker rearing his ugly rhetoric," said Gozemba.