Marrying my wife Sami was one of the happiest days of my life. I'll never forget feeling like the luckiest guy in the world as she walked down that aisle. Since then, we've had two beautiful children and cherished every moment together as a family.
But today in Hawaii, there are lawmakers who support rolling back progress and denying that same happiness to other people, simply because of whom they love.
Like President Obama and many others here in Hawaii and across America, I have experienced my own personal evolution on marriage equality. Through my own thought process, I came to the conclusion that our nation, and our Aloha state, should not deny gay and lesbian people the happiness that my wife and I have been so lucky to have in our 17-year marriage.
When the marriage equality bill came to the Hawaii State House of Representatives last year, I helped deliver the crucial vote to pass the bill. I'm proud that Hawaii now stands with 16 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing marriage equality and that a fast-growing number of additional states are preparing to join the ranks.
Though some have said that they oppose the law because of their religion, I support it because of the separation of church and state. No church in Hawaii will be forced to conduct same sex marriages, but this law gives loving, committed couples the right to marry in churches that welcome them.
When I voted for marriage equality in Hawaii, I knew I wasn't simply voting yes on a bill. I was being faithful to the Aloha State's stand for fairness and equality.
As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard, I served alongside gay and lesbian service members who love this country as much as any of us. They fight, and some died, for our country.
When I was deployed to the Middle East in 2009, the military took care of my wife and our two children during that stressful and trying time. I believe that our military and our veterans, whether gay or straight, deserve that same support.
I am encouraged that the Defense Department will now provide federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of all its military members and civilian employees.
When I reflect on my own thought process, I am often reminded of my children. Today's young people are coming of age in a more diverse and inclusive nation, one that's edging closer to fulfilling the promises enshrined in our country's founding documents -- including the pursuit of happiness.
One day in the future, I have no doubt that my children will reflect in a similar way, wondering why a nation founded on this principle disavowed marriage for loving, committed couples. They'll wonder why gay and lesbian people were ever barred from sharing in the joy, happiness, and benefits of marriage.
And I hope they'll be proud that their Dad made the right choice to support equality.
I am also encouraged by recent trends in expansion of rights for our LGBT friends and neighbors. At the same time, we have work to do.
Legislation in Arizona allowing business owners to refuse to service gay and lesbian people, for instance, would have been a step backwards. That is why we need to elect state legislators and members of Congress who have the courage to stand up against these types of laws.
I believe that Hawaii deserves voices for progress, not for the past. We need leaders who understand that expanding equality and fighting efforts to roll back rights isn't simply about being proud of our state's important history or our own individual evolutions. It's a chance for us to build a future where all people, no matter who they love -- have the same rights and get the same respect as everyone else.
This is the essence of the Aloha Spirit.
Mark Takai is a 20-year member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives and a 15-year member of the Hawaii Army National Guard. Use of his military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform do not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or Department of the Army.
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