Same-sex marriages in Hawaii
1998-1999: Constitutional Amendment;
Supreme Court nixes same-sex marriage
On General Election Day in 1998-NOV-3, the people of Hawaii approved the following
"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.
|The "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. |
|The "yes" forces interpreted an affirmative vote as simply opposing
same-sex marriages. |
In Support of the Amendment:
|"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 have 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
|The 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.|
|Parishioners 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.
|Hawaii 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.|
|Hawaii 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:
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!
|Support was also nearly universal among Hawaii's Roman Catholic, Mormon and
Opposing the Amendment:
|Many 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.|
|"Protect our Constitution" is a grass-roots organization that
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
|Marriage 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."|
|Dan 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
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."
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
over-rules 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:
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:
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.
In the decade following this constitutional, judicial and legislative
activity in Hawaii, same-sex marriages were approved in Massachusetts,
Connecticut and California. Same-sex civil unions were approved in other states.
Canada legalized same-sex marriage in all seven provinces and three territories.
Many states have since 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.
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.
- Michael Johnson, "The Honolulu Covey Seminar / Political Action Committee ??,"
an open letter dated 1998-MAR-24. Available at:
- Marriage Project - Hawaii has a home page at:
- 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:
- Gay/Lesbian International News Network, "Current Gay News," at:
- Hawaii Christian Coalition has a home page at:
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1997-JUL-11
Latest update and review: 2009-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson