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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriages & civil unions in Hawaii

2011-FEB: Governor signs bill into law.
Positive reactions to the new law.

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2011-FEB-23: Senate Bill 232 is signed into law:

Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) fulfilled his campaign pledge by signing the civil union bill into law in front of a large and enthusiastic gathering of civil rights supporters at Washington Place -- the Governor's residence in downtown Honolulu, HI. His speech includes many references to Hawaiian culture, lots of humor, and positive responses from the audience:

This made Hawaii the seventh state to pass a law to grant same-sex couples access to civil unions or domestic partnerships. This gives them almost the same state's rights, privileges, and obligations as received by opposite-sex married couples. California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington already had similar laws.

In addition, five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

The bill is called Act 1, and gives both same-sex and opposite-sex couples access to civil unions beginning 2012-JAN-01, 2012.

Perhaps the most important state right that all married couples automatically receive but that they will be denied: Same-sex couples will not have the right to call their union a marriage. That is a big difference to both the LGBT community who want full access to marriage, and to religious conservatives who want to deny them that same right. Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) they are also missing the approximately 1,100 federal marriage benefits. However, the DOMA law appears to be on its last legs; it has already been declared unconstitutional by two federal courts.

According to the Windy City Times, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i (ACLU) applauded:

"Hawai`i Governor Neil Abercrombie's signing of SB232, which establishes civil unions for same-sex and different-sex couples in Hawai`i. The Hawai`i Senate approved the bill in an 18-5 vote on February 16. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2012."

"Civil unions will provide a full range of state law protections and duties to unmarried couples -- gay and heterosexual alike -- such as access to family court to resolve disputes in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as appropriate, and other vital family protections. The new law will also honor same-sex couples' marriages, civil unions and broad domestic partnerships from other states and countries."

"It's wonderful to see so much hard work by so many in the Legislature and the community finally pay off," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. `Today marks a big step toward full equality for lesbian and gay people in the Aloha state. Hawai`i joins a growing list of states and countries on the right side of history - those that recognize the common humanity of all people, and know all families are strengthened when the law protects everyone. Governor Abercrombie, state lawmakers and many thousands of Hawai`i residents pulling together have moved this state significantly closer to civic equality by insisting that every family at least have access to complete rights and responsibilities, even if not to the equal status of marriage. We celebrate this key accomplishment and look forward to turning from litigation to helping with implementation of this new law`."

Lambda Legal and the ACLU had filed a lawsuit back in 2010-JUL after former governor Linda Lingle vetoed bill HB444. They will not be proceeding with the suit.

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Positive reactions to the new civil unions law:

Laurie Temple, Staff Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

"We're extraordinarily grateful to the tens of thousands of community members and organizations who have testified in support of civil unions over the years, and have encouraged their representatives, senators, and the Governor to enact it into law. All those hours spent waving signs and making phone calls have brought us one big step closer to equality."

Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawaii -- a LGBT-positive group -- said:

"Today is a truly momentous day in Hawaii and a great step forward in our struggle towards full equality. After nearly two decades of debate and sometimes hostile rhetoric, the people of Hawaii have spoken loud and clear, and their words ring true with hope and optimism. Equality Hawaii thanks Governor Abercrombie, the legislature, HRC and all those who have joined this fight for equal rights over the last two decades."

Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) said:

"I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha. For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii. I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii." 1

Before signing the bill into law, he said:

"The legalization of civic unions in Hawaii represents, in my mind, equal rights for all people. All people here, all who visit us. They protect our diversity, they protect our civil rights, they protect who we are as a people here in Hawaii. If there's anything that the word aloha means, it's that our diversity defines us, rather than divides us. ..."

"This has been an emotional process, but everyone has been involved. This process is now ended. Everyone has been heard, all points of view have been respected. ... This represents a triumph for everyone. We are not singling out an elite. We are not going after a special interest. This is, in fact, an interest, which is, something that provides for everyone." 2

Rep. Blake Oshiro (D),the House Majority Leader, said:

"Equality is not simply an issue to be debated and voted on, it is an idea that all people are created equal no matter who they are. For too long, Hawaii's same-sex families have languished as second-class citizens, denied equal civil rights and treatment under the law. Today, we bring the concepts of ohana and aloha back to the people of this great state. I thank Gov. Abercrombie, my colleagues in the legislature, Equality Hawaii and the Human Rights Campaign for their dedication to this cause and look forward to working with all advocates for equality in the future."

"Aloha" is a universal word meaning hello, goodbye, love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. When Hawaii became the 50th state, there was a debate whether the state`s slogan should be the Pineapple State or the Aloha State. Most felt that pineapples could be grown elsewhere, but aloha was unique to Hawaii. The culture could not survive without it.

"Ohana` means extended family with a strong sense of community unity.

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Hawaii gov. signs civil unions law," Windy City Times, 2011-FEB-24, at:
  2. "Christian Churches Challenge Hawaii Civil Unions Law; Claim It's Unconstitutional," On Top Magazine, 2011-DEC-30, at:
  3. "Hawaii's Civil Union Law Greeted With Lawsuit," Courthouse News Service, 2011-DEC-29, at:
  4. Michelle garcia, "Lesbian Couple Sues Hawaii for Right to Marry,", 2011-DEC-09, at:
  5. Nelson Daranclang, "2 Honolulu women suing state for the right to marry," Star Advertiser, 2011-DEC-08, at:
  6. "Lesbian Couple Sue For Right To Marry In Hawaii," On Top magazine, 2011-DEC-09, at:
  7. Jennifer Kelleher, "Hawaii women sue state in federal court because they want marriage, not civil union," Associated Press, 2011-DEC-08, at:

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-FEB-24
Latest update and review: 2011-DEC-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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