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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriages in Hawaii

1998-1999: Constitutional Amendment;
Supreme Court nixes same-sex marriage

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Constitutional Amendment Referendum passed:

On General Election Day in 1998-NOV-3, the people of Hawaii approved the following constitutional question:

"Shall the constitution of the State of Hawaii be amended to specify that the legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples."

This amendment gave the Hawaiian legislature the authority to introduce legislation to ban same-sex marriages.

bulletThe "no" forces interpreted the yes vote as separating a basic human rights issue from the protection of the bill of rights and transfer it to the legislature. The implication is that any minority group could be stripped of their rights in this way in the future.

bulletThe "yes" forces interpreted an affirmative vote as simply opposing same-sex marriages.

In Support of the Amendment:

bullet"Save Traditional Marriage '98" (STM 98) was headed by Bill Paul, formerly of the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce and the former Hawaii Visitors Bureau. He ran an unsuccessful race as a Republican for the House of Representatives. The Gay/Lesbian International News Network reported that STM 98 believed that"

"....allowing same-sex marriages to be recognized under the state constitution would 'undermine' Hawaii's culture, denigrate the family, lead schools to teach that Gay marriages are as legitimate as heterosexual unions, and jeopardize recognition of Hawaiian marriages by other states."

STM 98 expressed the fear "...that Hawaii's tourist industry and economy will suffer from the image of becoming the world's 'Gay wedding and honeymoon capital.'" They ran "vote yes" ads in movie theatres and on television. Some feature Reggie White, an ordained Christian minister and Green Bay Packers player. The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission received many complaints about illegal fund raising methods of this group. The Commission determined that campaigning spending laws had been violated.

STM 98 listed Saturn of Honolulu, a GM company, as donating $625.00 to fight equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It turns out that a group of Saturn employees attended a presentation by the author of "Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." They thought they were attending an educational workshop; it was in fact a political fund raiser. They have since distanced themselves from STM 98. Their VP and General Manager wrote:

"...our company policy is to show respect to every individual in action, voice, and spirit. We believe in including, not excluding, people. We advocate for people, for all people, without prejudice or discrimination of any kind. At Saturn of Honolulu, we are constantly reminding ourselves of these principles as part of our effort to 'do it right.' " They are considering "legal remedies with 'class action' on the grounds of misrepresentation."

bulletThe Kaua'i Ethics Board asked the Attorney General of Hawaii to investigate fraud or improprieties by Hawaii's Future Today (HFT) and Save Traditional Marriage. It is alleged that the two groups combined to solicit funds under false pretenses by sponsoring a political fund raiser (described above) disguised as an educational seminar. HFT's lawyer claims that no fraud was involved; letters to the attendees clearly stated that their checks should be made out to STM 98.

bulletParishioners of the Star of the Sea Roman Catholic parish organized a group: Pro-Family Hawaii. Its mandate is "to support and strengthen traditional family life in Hawaii and oppose that which threatens or weakens the family." They named four major concerns: promiscuity, abortion access, euthanasia and attempts to legalize same-sex marriages. They are concerned that:

"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."

 As with other groups which oppose extending equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians, they did not specify exactly how such marriages will harm existing families.

bulletHawaii Family Forum is rumored to be linked to a well known Colorado Fundamentalist Christian group, Focus on the Family. They began to run radio ads in 1998-JUL. The Campaign Spending Commission is investigating the claim that the Forum's ads are political, not educational.

bulletHawaii Christian Coalition is affiliated with Dr. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition of Chesapeake Virginia. They cited a number of reasons why marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals:

bullet Homosexual behavior is condemned by the Bible, according to their interpretation of its verses

bulletIf gays and lesbians were allowed to marry in Hawaii that homosexuals from all over the United States will flock to Hawaii

"... and then return to their home states and nations, your neighborhoods! ... They will file lawsuits in courts demanding that their marriages be legally recognized, and liberal judges will grant those requests. The institution of marriage, as we know it, created by God, will come to an end throughout the world in six months to one year."

They seem to imply that if gays are allowed to marry, that this will somehow annul the existing marriages of heterosexuals. The reasoning behind this statement is not clear to us.

bulletGays will "recruit children to their lifestyle." This appears to have repeated Anita Bryant's assertion that since gays and lesbians cannot have children, they must recruit heterosexual children and convert them to homosexuality.

bulletIf homosexuals are allowed to marry then they will next attempt to legalize the raping of children.

bulletIf same-sex marriage is legalized in Hawaii then God may destroy the islands as in the days of Sodom.

They offered the opportunity for their readers to give money and thereby "keep the world from becoming more corrupted by evil! ...We must hate what God hates!" To their credit, they also say: "We must love the sinner, but hate the sin! "

bulletSupport was also nearly universal among Hawaii's Roman Catholic, Mormon and fundamentalist congregations.

Opposing the Amendment:

bulletMany organizations opposed the constitutional amendment and convention. They included many religious groups, such as the American Friends Service Committee, Church of the Crossroads, First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition, and Temple Bet Shalom. Also included are dozens of clergy from Baptist, Buddhist, Congregational, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Metropolitan Community Church, Society of Friends (Quakers), Religious Science, United Methodist Church, Unity, and Unitarian Universalist faith groups.

bullet"Protect our Constitution" is a grass-roots organization that was been formed to defend "the rights guaranteed by our Constitution for all citizens. We believe that our constitutional rights form a foundation of fairness, acceptance, and equality that lies at the heart of Hawaii's spirit of aloha." (Aloha is a unique word with no comparable English translation. It includes such concepts as love, solidarity, support, tolerance, understanding. Hawaii is referred to as the "Aloha State.")

bulletMarriage Project - Hawaii has spearheaded the court cases which led to the circuit court 1997 decision. They continue to be active in the promotion of gay and lesbian marriages. Tracey Bennett, their former lobbyist said that she expects only "a limited amount" of national gay rights group funds will come to Hawaii. She said: "The Hawaii Constitution grants equal rights to all people. It should not be amended casually."

bulletDan Foley is the attorney who represents three couples who are seeking marriage licenses. Before the 1998 NOV-3 vote, he said that if the amendment is passed, it will turn the gay/lesbian marriage issue "into a political football that will come back into the Legislature every two years. The only way to end this debate is to defeat this initiative. Otherwise, people are going to be constantly running on it. It'll be around forever."

About 69% of the voters approved the amendment. Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, said that:

"The very confusing nature of the question and the very confusing and some would say deceptive nature of the advertising combined to make the outcome less certain than it should have been. [In the ad campaign] they compared a yes vote to return to the days of Japanese internment and they said a yes vote was a threat to a woman's right to abortion. They talked about every issue imaginable except the legalization of homosexual relationships."

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State Supreme Court nixes same-sex marriage

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on 1999-DEC-9 that the state constitutional amendment that the voters approved in 1998 mooted the court case Baehr v. Anderson. This means that the constitutional amendment overrules the section of the Hawaii constitution that forbids sexual discrimination. Gays and lesbians will not be able to marry.

However, the 1996 decision by Hawaii First Circuit Judge Kevin S. C. Chang still stands. Hawaii civil rights attorney Dan Foley said:

"The Court held that its hands were tied with regard to marriage licenses but left in tact its holding that denial of the protections that come with marriage violates the constitution. We now look to the legislature to end the Catch-22 that links protections to marriage then tells same-sex couples they may not marry."

In the future, a series of lawsuits are expected which will gradually win for gay and lesbian couples many individual marriage benefits now reserved for opposite-sex couples.

Evan Wolfson, Director  of the Marriage Project for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, commented:

"Raw power politics and the fierce, sustained campaign of our opponents prevented us from achieving full equality in this century. Even so, this case has left us in a transformed position."

He referred to a recent poll that found two-thirds of all Americans now believe that gay people will eventually win the freedom to marry.

Webmaster's comment: [Bias alert]

In the decade following this constitutional, judicial and legislative activity in Hawaii, same-sex marriages were approved first in Massachusetts, and then later in Connecticut and California. Same-sex civil unions were approved in other states. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in all ten provinces and three territories.

31 states modified their constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.

The unique feature of the amendment to the Hawaii constitution is that it simply over-rides its own equal protection clause and authorizes the legislature -- if it wishes -- to discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples. It does not require the legislature to discriminate.

Thus, the legislature retains the freedom to legalize same-sex marriage in the state at some time in the future. This was actually achieved on 2013-NOV-13, when Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The 16th was Illinois; their Legislature has already passed the bill, and the Governor is scheduled to sign it into law on NOV-20.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks date from the late 1990s, and are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Michael Johnson, "The Honolulu Covey Seminar / Political Action Committee ??," an open letter dated 1998-MAR-24. Available at:
  2. Marriage Project - Hawaii has a home page at:
  3. Form letter from  Pro-Family Hawaii at P.O. Box 10892, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816-0892 to "Brothers and Sisters in Christ," 1997-MAR. A copy is at:
  4. Gay/Lesbian International News Network, "Current Gay News," at:
  5. Hawaii Christian Coalition has a home page at:

Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1997-JUL-11
Latest update and review: 2014-JUN-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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