11/18/2013 05:30 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

What Does 'Traditional Marriage' Mean in Hawai'i? (VIDEO)

Over the past few weeks the opponents of marriage equality in Hawai'i have repeatedly and vociferously claimed that they support "traditional marriage," meaning a union of one man and one woman, and that the "gay lifestyle" is a Western import.


As State Sen. Gilbert Kahele, a native Hawaiian from Miloli'i on the Island of Hawai'i, recalled in a remarkable speech in support of the marriage equality bill that was then being discussed in a special legislative session, same-sex relationships between both men and women were not only accepted in Hawai'i but "part of the very fabric of Hawaiian history."

Indeed, the ship journals of Captain Cook, the first European to arrive in Hawai'i, recorded that all the kings of the islands had aikāne, or same-sex partners, and that chief Kalanikoa of Kaua'i even asked if one of the European sailors would become his lover -- an honor for which he offered to pay six pigs. And when the great King Kamehameha, uniter of all Hawai'i, boarded Cookʻs ship, he brought aboard his aikāne, leaving his wives at home.

The "T" in LGBT also has its place in Hawaiian history: the māhū, or those blessed with both male and female characteristics. If you visit Waikiki Beach, make sure to stop by the healing stones of Kapaemahu, four basalt boulders that carry the mana, or healing powers, brought by māhū soothsayers who traveled here from Tahiti many centuries ago.

And so it was only right and fitting that the governor's signing ceremony for the Hawai'i marriage equality act started off with a beautiful oli (chant) by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, or "Kumu Hina," a native Hawaiian teacher and cultural expert who also just happens to be māhūwahine (a transgender woman).

While you might expect an ancient, traditional chant in such a setting, youʻll soon recognize that it is an original composition, making specific reference to aikāne and māhū, words that audience members recognized immediately.

That's what is so wonderful about Hawai'i. Despite 200 years of colonization and repression, the ancient traditions and beliefs live on and are incorporated into modern institutions and everyday life.

So it will be with marriage as the state embraces the true traditional spirit of aloha -- unconditional acceptance and respect for all -- even as it continues to struggle with troublesome Western imports such as religion-based discrimination.