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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions


Hawaii: A finally successful 22
year struggle for marriage equality

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bullet "I [God] hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies...but let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Amos 5:21-24)

bullet "Individual rights run amok can cause great harm to other individuals and, in particular, to families. There has to be a balance between individual rights and community rights. We cannot just sit back and allow a few to impose their morals on us." An anti-same-sex marriage statement by Pro-Family Hawaii who oppose equal rights and protection for loving, committed same-sex couples and their children.

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Background to date:

It is perhaps logical that the first move towards same-sex marriages in the U.S. occurred in Hawaii. Aikane, close male societal and sexual relationships, were an accepted part of ancient Hawai'ian culture, until terminated after the arrival of Christian missionaries. Also, the state currently has probably the greatest diversity of religious belief and racial heritage in the United States. Only about 34% of the Hawaiian population considers itself Judeo-Christian. This compares with about 75% in the rest of the U.S.

During the 1990's:

In 1991, three same-sex couples launched a lawsuit "Baehr v. Lewin" seeking marriage licenses from the state. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for a new hearing.

At the time, a strong majority of American adults were opposed to SSM. Members of Congress were concerned that SSM might begin to be legalized across the U.S. And so, they passed the federa; Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which cut off access to federal government benefits and protections for same-sex married couples even though none existed at the time. Some individual states also passed their own DOMA laws.

During 1998, a referendum added an amendment to the Hawaii Constitution. Unlike constitutional amendments in other states that prohibit SSM, this amendment allowed the state legislature to pass laws recognizing civil unions and/or marriages for same-sex couples.

During the 2010's:

On 2010-APR-30, the Hawaii Legislature passed a bill creating civil unions. It would have given same-sex or opposite-sex couples who registered -- and their children -- the same state rights and protections that married people receive. Governor Lingle (R) vetoed the bill. Although the bill had passed with comfortable majorities, the margin in the House was insufficient to override her veto.

During 2011-FEB, the Hawaii Legislature passed a new civil unions bill by a comfortable margin. The new Governor, Neil Abercrombie (D), signed it into law. It took effect on 2012-JAN-01 in spite of a last-ditch effort by two fundamentalist Christian churches to have the law declared unconstitutional. An information sheet discussing civil unions: "Here's How It Works, What It Means & How To Do It!" was provided by Equality Hawai'i. See:

During 2011-NOV, a lesbian couple launched a law suit "Jackson v. Abernathy" in Federal District Court seeking the right to marry. They lost, but appealed their case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court has treated Jackson in parallel with a very similar case from Nevada: Sevcik v Sandoval. Some commentators have speculated that Jackson and/or Sevcik will be the next major SSM case(s) to be eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During 2013-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. This means that married same-sex couples in the U.S. can access some of the 1,138 federal marriage benefits and protections in those states where their marriages are recognized. However, Hawaii only allows loving, committed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, thus cutting them off from access to any of the federal plans. The drive to achieve marriage equality in Hawai'i intensified as a result of this development.

Starting in 2013-JUL, a drive started to have the Hawai'i Legislature legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). The state constitution had already been amended to allow the Legislature to achieve marriage equality at any time. A substantial majority of the Senate -- which has only one Republican -- favored SSM. So did a much smaller majority in the House. Enthusiasm built to hold a special session of the Legislature in the fall to revisit SSM.

The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii prepared a report which found that a major tourist boom would materialize in Hawai'i if SSM were legalized. It would be worth about $ 217 million between 2014 and 2016 inclusive.

During 2013-AUG, leaders from more than 30 faith groups -- Jewish, Unitarian, along with various mainline and liberal Christian denominations -- signed a declaration supporting SSM. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Hawaii wrote a letter outlining his opposition. 100 conservative Christian leaders signed a declaration to oppose marriage equality and to urge lawmakers to not initiate a special session of the Legislature. Governor Abercrombie issued a draft bill to legalize SSM.

During 2013-SEP, the Anglican bishop of Hawaii released a pro-SSM letter. Governor Abercrombie called a special session of the Legislature to begin on OCT-28 and last for perhaps 5 days. The chances that the Legislature will pass a bill legalizing SSM appeared good. This would make Hawaii the 15th state to achieve marriage equality, following New Mexico.

On 2013-OCT-28, Governor Abercrombie (D) called a special session of the Legislature to consider Senate Bill 1 -- a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. By NOV-01, a Senate committee and the full Senate had both passed the bill. Two House committees held a joint session to consider it. As expected, the bill was amended in order to widen its religious exemptions so that faith groups will be able to increase their range of discrimination against same-sex couples with impunity, while still giving the latter the right to marry.

By 2013-NOV-07, the two House committees had passed SB1 as amended, and the full House had completed second reading with a strong majority support. The bill easily passed its third reading on NOV-08 with essentially no change in the voting results from the second reading. It returned to the Senate,

A pause was required by the rules of the Legislature. However, the Senate met again on NOV-12, passed SB1 as amended by the House, and sent it to Governor Arbercrombie (D) to sign into law. The governor has long been a supporter of marriage equality, and signed it on NOV-13.

Rep. Bob McDermott attempted to obtain a temporary restraining order from the Circuit Court that would prevent the state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was denied.

That successfully concluded a 22 year battle for equality -- almost a full generation of effort by folks who never gave up expecting that aloha (love, acceptance, unity) would eventually win over denigration and exclusion in Hawaii -- "The aloha state." Rep. McDermott (R) filed a lawsuit in late 2013-NOV seeking to have the court overturn the new marriage law. A hearing was scheduled for 2014-JAN-13. Again, he was not successful.

Loving, committed same-sex couples were able to pick up marriage licenses on 2013-DEC-02. They cost US $50.00 and are available to visitors to Hawaii as well as to residents. Since Hawaii has no waiting period, couples can marry on the same day. Licenses are valid for 30 days. For more information, do a Google search for marriage license hawaii

Hawaii became the 15th state to attain marriage equality and the 16th jurisdiction if one includes the District of Columbia. The 16th state to legalize SSM was Illinois, whose governor signed a bill that had been already passed by the Legislature into law at a public meeting in Chicago on NOV-20.

On 2015-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. They legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

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Topics covered in this section:

Early, unsuccessful attempt to legalize same-sex marriage:

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2007-2011: Successful attempt to legalize civil unions:

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2011-2013: Attempt to legalize SSM via the federal courts:

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2013: Successful attempt to legalize SSM via the Legislature:

Copyright 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1997-JUL-11
Latest update: 2014-SEP-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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