The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong: Celebrating in Paradise
The fireworks went off at midnight. But as soon as the clock struck 12:01 on January 1, 2012, four couples and three ministers (I was proud to be the first officially registered officiant) were busy typing away to register for the first time using the Hawaii Department of Health’s new online system to obtain Civil Union licenses. The system worked perfectly, thanks to a member of First Unitarian Church, Russell Castagnaro, who happens to be the President/CEO of eHawaii.gov.
An hour later, these couples were standing in front of the ministers, exchanging vows and rings with one another, professing their love before each other, their families and the world. In unison, the three ministers proclaimed, “We now pronounce that you are legally partners in life.” The fireworks never stopped, celebrating the joyous joining of people in love.
This was a culmination of several years of lobbying, court and legislative battles, constitutional amendments, and heartaches and tears. But the LGBT community and their allies were unrelenting in their quest for justice and equality in the “Aloha state.” This includes Unitarian Universalists like Bill and Judy Hepfer, who testified before the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, explaining why equality matters for them as people of faith. It included former minister Rev. Mike Young, who wrote op-ed pieces for local newspapers, demanding the state recognize the families of same-gender loving people.
I was proud to have been on the forefront of this debate as well, testifying before the legislature and the governor, and hearing and telling the gut-wrenching stories of couples in love who lacked the protection that other families received. Countless other activists and lawmakers were brave enough to similarly stand on the side of love with us to harness the power of love to counter fear, discrimination, and misconceptions about the LGBT community.
While civil unions is a giant step forward for LGBT families, it still falls short of marriage, so our work is not yet done in Hawaii. But for now, we pop open the champagne and toast to a new day — when love’s many faces and genders can be celebrated in paradise.
The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong, is an ordained minister with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). He is currently the Settled Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu and is an active member of the UUA’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee.
Jonipher currently resides in Honolulu, Hawai’i and has been with his partner for over 13 years. He enjoys watching cheesy movies, snorkeling Hanauma Bay and composting as a spiritual practice.