2 rabbis pull Hawaii Gov. Lingle in opposite directions on contentious civil unions bill

HONOLULU (AP) — Rabbis Itchel Krasnjansky and Peter Schaktman hail from different branches of Judaism and hold starkly contrasting views on whether same-sex couples should be permitted to form civil unions in Hawaii.

What they have in common is the ear of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who has until June 21 to announce whether she may veto the only pending civil unions legislation in the nation.

Lingle, in the final months of her second and last term, faces a momentous decision that carries political and legal implications. For the rabbis, with whom the governor has consulted on the issue, her choice is about much more.

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 debate between Krasnjansky and Schaktman mirrors that of Hawaii's Christians. Catholic, evangelical and conservative pastors have waged a months-long effort to prod the Legislature and now Lingle to block the measure, HB 444. Mainline Protestant and more liberal preachers have worked to get the bill signed.

The bill 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.

The state Supreme Court in 1993 ruled that the state could not discriminate against gay couples who wanted to marry. Five years later, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to ban same-sex marriages, which it did soon after.

Proposals to permit civil unions 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.

The governor met with both sides before leaving June 4 for a two-week trip to Asia. She is due back June 19, and by June 21, she is required by law to identify the bills still on her desk that she might veto. By July 6, she must sign or veto those measures, or allow them to become law without her signature.

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.

He also worries that civil unions will legitimize homosexuality in the eyes of young people, and steer them away from heterosexual relationships that have formed the bedrock of Jewish survival for centuries.

If people are drawn to civil unions, he said, "then they wouldn't recognize the blessings of marriage, of family."

"The governor is very interested in her Jewish heritage and...the traditions and the teaching of Judaism," Krasnjansky added. "I tried to share with her my understanding of the Jewish view on this matter."

That kind of talk rankles Schaktman, who said no one branch of Judaism can claim ownership of Jewish teachings.

Lingle's suggestion that the Jewish community is torn over HB 444 also troubled Schaktman.

"I think it was misleading for her to imply that there's split in the Jewish community," he said. "It's fair to say the majority are in favor of it."

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.

It is up to Krasnjansky and like-minded religious leaders to oppose homosexuality, Schaktman contended. "That's not Gov. Lingle's job, and they have no right to expect her or the state to promulgate their morality," he added.

In his last conversation with the governor, Schaktman said he encouraged her "to not do necessarily the expedient thing (but) to really search her conscience to do what is right."