Marriage equality is a labor issue

Labor Day statement on Marriage Equality

For Hawai‘i unions and allied organizations, this Labor Day is an important opportunity to put the campaign for marriage equality in the context of the labor movement’s ongoing struggle for a more economically just society.

We proudly recognize that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer workers and their families are part of our movement.  We believe that supporting marriage equality demonstrates core union principles of solidarity, dignity and fairness.  The facts are simple: same-sex couples are devoted to each other, love each other, raise children and support their families no differently than opposite-sex couples; however, the government’s refusal to recognize their relationships deprives thousands of families of the most important attributes of their labor: the ability to take care of and provide for their family members.

With the overturning of key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, the unequal treatment afforded same-sex couples in Hawai‘i has become ever more glaring.  Unlike their sisters and brothers in states from Maine to California, they are denied over 1,000 federal benefits, including paying their federal taxes as a couple, taking family medical leave to care for their spouse, and collecting spousal Social Security benefits.  Every day that goes by without this recognition is a day that these couples and their families lack key protections and benefits.  This inequality is unfair, unjust, discriminatory and anti-union.

Fifty years ago, visionary and committed labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph and Walter Reuther helped lead the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  They recognized that economic justice without equality, and equality without economic justice, are impossibilities.  Unfortunately, many unions, unwilling to challenge racism among their membership and within their segregated structures chose to sit out the historic March.  Hawai‘i’s labor history shows how allowing divisions by race and ethnicity weakened our movement; it was only when we embraced the shared struggle for economic justice that we found the power to make historic achievements.

This Labor Day, we are asking all of our brothers and sisters in Hawai‘i’s labor movement to join us in supporting marriage equality.  As we celebrate the dignity of all working people, we do not feel it’s an option to ignore the issue of LGBTIQ equality.  We encourage LGBTIQ union members and allies to speak out within their unions when they are able, and invite union leaders to address these issues courageously.  Equality is not a “wedge issue;” it is a value that unites all working people.

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “Working people believe in equality and fairness, and that’s why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality.”  This Labor Day, by calling for marriage equality in Hawai‘i as a labor issue, we affirm our commitment to equality and economic justice for all.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Hawaii Nurses Association, OPEIU Local 50
Hawaii State Teachers Staff Organization
Labor Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii
Musicians’ Association of Hawaii, Local 677 AFM
Pride At Work Hawaii
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 480
United Steel Workers Local 12-591

Pride At Work Hawai'i Out and Organizing!