Man hoping to wed partner: Different is not equal

Kihei residents Joseph D’Antonio and Marlowe Hyer exchanged wedding vows in San Francisco in February 2004.

San Francisco’s mayor at the time, Gavin Newsom, ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The mayor said he believed denying the right to marry to gay men and lesbians was “wrong and inconsistent with the values this country holds dear.”

D’Antonio and Hyer rushed downtown.

“People flocked to city hall,” D’Antonio, 57, recalled nine years later. “There was a line around the block.”

Hyer, 58, remembered being “thrilled.”

“It was one of the best days of our lives, so magical,” he said. “It was amazing – the outpouring of love and joy we received from so many people.”

Their happiness was short-lived. A California court invalidated their marriage, ruling that Newsom did not have the authority to allow same-sex marriages.

“It’s been a long road up and down,” D’Antonio said.

Now, he and Hyer are among many gay and lesbian couples watching the Hawaii state Capitol this week. A special session called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie begins Monday and will determine whether same-sex marriage will be legal in Hawaii. If that happens, as many expect it will, D’Antonio and Hyer plan to marry on Maui. They want to invite family and friends from the Mainland to take part in their exchange of wedding vows.

While those opposed to same-sex marriage cite religious beliefs that marriage is for one man and one woman, D’Antonio and Hyer see it differently, as a matter of civil justice.

“It has nothing to do with religion,” D’Antonio said. “I don’t see religion as being an issue.”

He said he has no objections to the marriage equality bill’s exemptions for religious organizations.

“The church can decide what it wants to do or not,” he said. “I’m fine with that.”

Even now, people get married in civil ceremonies that don’t involve churches or religious beliefs, Hyer said.

“I know traditional marriage is very important to most religions,” he said. “But not everyone gets married in religious organizations.”

Marriage should be allowed, equally, for everyone, he said, adding that it brings with it many legal rights and responsibilities that gay and lesbian couples want and seek.

D’Antonio said marriage would provide “society’s recognition of what we are to each other.”

If a husband refers to his wife, everyone automatically knows they have a married relationship, he said. Yet, when he talks about Hyer as being his “partner,” then “it requires an explanation.”

“If I’m lucky enough to marry Marlowe,” he said, “when I say, ‘This is my husband,’ people know what that means. There’s no confusion. It’s a social recognition we hope to have.”

Although Hawaii does have a civil unions law, D’Antonio said it doesn’t go far enough. And, some federal benefits, such as filing a joint tax return, are available only to “married” couples, he said. Also, estate planning is much more complicated and expensive for domestic partners.

“Different is not equal,” he said.

D’Antonio grew up as a Roman Catholic, and Hyer was raised in a strong Mormon family. They are not practicing their faiths, however, because they said they feel alienated by the anti-gay dogma of church leaders.

“I don’t feel supported by that religion,” Hyer said, referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

D’Antonio said he was an active member of a Bay Area Catholic church, ringing the church bell and tending to its garden. The congregation welcomed him and Hyer to services, he said.

Later, though, he had “increasing difficulty” with hostile comments from church leaders in Rome about gay marriage, leading him to conclude that they “didn’t believe in the love I have for Marlowe.”

“I had a hard time with that,” he said. “That’s when I left the church.”

D’Antonio said he has a “sense of sadness” that he can no longer be part of the religion he was raised in.

He added that the negativity came from the church’s hierarchy and not from the congregation.

“I have loving Catholic friends who’ve been so supportive of me and us,” he said.

D’Antonio and Hyer moved to Maui permanently about a year and a half ago. They began coming here more than five years ago for vacations and acquired a condominium to visit the island three times a year. In May 2012, they bought a home in Kihei and moved to the island.

“Maui just kind of gets under your skin,” D’Antonio said. “The more we were here the more we wanted to be here.”

Hyer said he and D’Antonio have quickly adjusted to living on Maui where they’ve found a warm, friendly community as opposed to the busy indifference found in a big city such as San Francisco.

“We really loved the spirit of aloha here,” he said. “We felt home right from the start . . . We really feel like we’re part of the community. We love it.”

Hyer said his marriage to D’Antonio would take nothing away from the relationships of heterosexual married couples.

“Why wouldn’t we want a greater number of committed, loving couples in society, which would include same-sex couples?” he asked.

D’Antonio said he and Hyer joined other supporters of marriage equality in a “phone banking” event recently in which they called people to ask them to contact lawmakers to vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

As people introduced themselves, D’Antonio said “what really struck me” was how “people of faith” and from all walks of life were there to support gay marriage.

“It was such a proud moment,” he said. “I loved Maui even more to see how people are embracing this. We are very hopeful this is something that we can all celebrate.”

Hyer said he’s eagerly anticipating being able to legally marry.

D’Antonio in the near future and then inviting “more friends and family to enjoy that with us.”

“We’ll be thrilled when it happens here,” he said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at