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Same-sex marriages (SSM) & civil unions in Hawaii

2012: Jackson v. Abercrombie appeal launched.
2013: Impact of Supreme Court's Prop. 8 ruling.
Polls show rapidly rising support for SSMs.
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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2012-SEP-07: Plaintiffs launch appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

Plaintiffs Natasha Jackson, Janin Kleid and Gary Bradley appealed the decision of the federal District Court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie independently appealed the decision on the same day.

On 2012-SEP-10, the Court of Appeals issued a schedule requiring that all briefs in the Jackson v. Abercrombie case be submitted to them by 2013-JAN-15.

Hawaii Family Forum (HFF), a conservative group opposed to marriage equality is defending Hawaii's existing discriminatory marriage laws. During mid-2012-OCT, HFF asked the Court of Appeals to delay its proceedings until after the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to hear two closely related cases: one involving Proposition 8 in California and the other questioning the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA denies federal marriage benefits from 1,138 government programs to all married same-sex couples.

The Court of Appeals granted a stay in Jackson v. Abercrombie until 2012-DEC-17. A few days later, Governor Neil Abercrombie filed a motion asking that the Ninth Circuit consolidate his appeal with the plaintiffs' appeal. This request was also granted.

At the start of 2013, there were two very similar federal cases before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: the Hawaii case Jackson v. Abercrombie and a Nevada case Sevcik v. Coalition. Both involved same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in their state; both base their case on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; both lost at their District Court. The Court of Appeals decided to have both cases considered by the same appeals court panel and to synchronize the dates for briefs and the oral arguments. 1,2

Following major wins for marriage equality in three other states on election day on 2012-NOV, Jim Hochberg, attorney for HFF, speculated on the response of the Hawaii Legislature to SSM during 2013. In spite of polls showing strong support for SSM in Hawaii, he said that politicians are aware that most adults in Hawaii want to exclude same-sex couples from marriage:

"So, I think they could smartly respond one of either two ways. One, they could say that it is in the courts, so let's wait to see what the courts say. Alternatively, they could say that they not do want to vote directly on this, so let's let the people decide [in a referendum]. That way the Legislature does not get blamed." 3

Donald Bentz of Equality Hawaii opposes a ballot initiative. He said as a matter of principle:

"Civil rights should never be up to the general public for approval or disapproval." 3

Allowing the general public to vote on whether to deny equal rights to a minority grop is often called "the tyranny of the majority." This was a major concern for the founders of the United States. The main justification for the Bill of Rights, which are the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was to place funamental human rights out of the reach of legislatures and public votes.

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2013-JUN-26: The impacts that the Proposition 8 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court had on the Hawaiian case:

The Supreme Court stuck down a major section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Governor Abercrombie reacted to this ruling by issuing a news release stating:

"In Hawaii, we believe in fairness, justice and human equality, and that everyone is entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else, including the ability to get married. So I am pleased that the Supreme Court, in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case, did not overturn the federal district court’s ruling striking down Proposition 8 – which attempted to bar same sex marriage in California – thereby effectively allowing same sex couples in California to be married.

Although the Supreme Court did not directly require that same sex couples in other states be allowed to marry, I am encouraged by the fact that language in the Windsor ruling supports my position in the Hawaii lawsuit, which is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In that lawsuit, I argue the Constitution’s equal protection clause requires same sex marriage in all states, including Hawaii.

I believe my position to support a constitutional right to same sex marriage in Hawaii and elsewhere was given a substantial boost by today’s Supreme Court rulings. I will continue to work to assure justice and equality for all." 4

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2012/2013: Two polling sources both show increasing support trends of SSM in Hawaii, but differ greatly in absolute numbers:

  • 2012-MAY: A poll was conducted among registered voters by Merriman River Group, a consulting organization, for Honolulu Civil Beat -- an information and news source for things Hawai'ian. They asked:

    "Do you believe that same-sex couples should or should not have the legal right to get married?"

    Results were:

    • 37% support same-sex marriage,

    • 51% are opposed, for a margin of 14 percentage points opposed! This is significantly wider than most or all similar polls in other states.

    • 12% were undecided or didn't answer.

These results are surprising because they showed far less support for SSM that all the polls taken in other states and nationally during 2012. National polls have regularly shown pluralities or majorities in favor of SSM since 2011.

1,162 registered voters were polled, the margin of error on these results is: ~+mn~2.9 percentage points. 9

  • 2013-JAN: Anzalone Liszt Grove Research -- a professional polling group -- conducted a poll among 500 randomly selected Hawaii residents between 2013-JAN-14 and 18, asking:

    "On the question of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, strongly oppose or somewhat oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry?"

Results were:

  • 55% support same-sex marriage,

  • 37% are opposed, for a margin of 18 percentage points in favor! This is significantly wider than most or all similar polls in other states taken in early 2013.

  • 8% were undecided or didn't answer.

Since only 442 residents were polled, the margin of error on these results is wide: ~+mn~4.7 percentage points. 5

Donald Bentz, the Executive Director of Equality Hawaii, said:

    "These numbers mirror what national polls are showing, that a clear majority of the public supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to be legally married. Even among the older generation of voters in Hawaii, we see majority support for the freedom to marry." 6

  • 2013-JUL: QMark Research conducted a survey of 442 randomly selected Hawaii residents between 2013-JUL-26 and 30. They asked the same question as during their 2013-JAN poll.

They found that:

  • 54% support same-sex marriage,

  • 31% are opposed, for a margin of 23 percentage points.

  • 15% were undecided or didn't answer.

Since only 442 residents were polled, the margin of error on these results is also wide: ~+mn~4.7 percentage points. However, with a massive margin of 23 percentage points, precision is not really required.

Reacting to the QMark Research results, State Rep. Chris Lee (D) said:

"Here in Hawaii, across the nation, and around the world, public opinion has changed. Most people recognize that marriage equality is simply a matter of fairness, respect and aloha. ... Equality is not something you put on the back burner. The people are ready, and I am confident that the Governor and my colleagues would agree that Hawaii should resolve this issue now, on our own terms, and before the flood of outside influences." 7,8

  • 2013-OCT: Honolulu Civil Beat sponsored another poll on OCT-09 & 10 among registered voters. The question asked was: "How do you feel about the proposal to make same sex marriage legal in Hawaii." This is different from the question asked in their 2012-MAY poll. 11

Results were:

  • 44% support same-sex marriage,

  • 44% are opposed, for a margin of zero percentage points! This is significantly narrower than similar polls taken nationally or in other states in 2013.

  • 12% were undecided or didn't answer.

Since only 819 residents were polled, the margin of error on these results is wide: ~+mn~3.4 percentage points. 5

    Referring to the increase in support over the previous year and a half, Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, said:

    "This is the trend of the country. It is just something that people are moving on from. I think this is becoming less of a flash point. Not only that, those opposed to it [SSM] are less fervent as well." 10

  • 2013-OCT: The Garden Island, a news web site for the island of Kaua'i Hawaii held a poll of its web site's visitors. They asked "How would you vote on Hawaii’s same-sex marriage bill?" As of early OCT-27 the accumulated votes are"
    • 24.2%: Yes. Love is love. It doesn't matter what gender."
    • 18.7%: No. It goes against what the Bible says.
    • 7.2%: Doesn't matter to me. Whatever makes others happy.

This is equivalent to a poll showing 49% in favor, 37% opposed and 14% no opinion, with a margin in favor of SSM of 12 percentage points. However, those voting in the web site poll may not be a representative sample of adults in Hawaii. They were self-selected.

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Why were the results from the two polling groups so different?:

The two polling groups showed a major increase in support for SSM and a major decrease in opposition over time. This is consistent with all other polls that we have observed. But the absolute numbers were quite different:

  • The two QMark Research polls agreed with values and trends found in other U.S. states and in national polls.

  • The Honolulu Civil Beat poll showed much less support and much greater opposition than other polls.

Comparing the two groups' polls:

  • The specific question asked by the two groups was different. It is generally known that the precise wording of the question can often bias results. In an ideal world, agencies conducting polls in the same state would cooperate by agreeing to ask the same question. That would be very simple to achieve. Only then could polling results from different polling agencies be comparable.

  • The Honolulu Civil Beat poll of 2012 asked a group of other questions during the same poll. Some were highly controversial: legalizing Marijuana, physician assisted suicide, Native Hawaiian rights, etc. Those questions asked before the SSM question may have biased the results.

But the overwhelming reason why the polls are different appears to be the non-random age distribution of the people polled. In all polls, it is very important that the respondents be selected at random from the general population. Honolulu Civil Beat states on their web site that in their 2013-OCT poll:

"... 69 percent [of the respondents] said they were 50 years of age or older, raising the question of whether support for gay marriage would be higher had more people under 50 been surveyed " the pattern common in national polls." 11

It is a well known fact that in national and state polls, young adults tend to support SSM very strongly -- often over 75%, while the majority of seniors are often opposed to marriage equality. Thus, one would expect the Honolulu Civil Beat poll results to show much less support for, and much higher opposition to, marriage equality than is actually true of the overall population.

Interpretation of the poll is further complicated by the poll's report on support and oppositions with age:

  • The report on showed that 46% of those under age 50 and 46% of those aged 50 and over supported SSM while only 44% of all ages supported SSM. This is a mathematical impossibility and points to an arithmetic error somewhere.

  • All other polls that show results by respondents' age show a remarkable decline in support for marriage equality by age. But this poll shows exactly the same support: 46% for those under 50 and those 50 and over.

Our conclusion is that the poll cannot be relied upon for accurate results. Unfortunately, many conservative religious and social information sources are accepting this poll's results as accurate and are widely publishing them.

In politics, it has been said that "momentum is everything." Over 18 months, the Honolulu Civil Beat poll showed an increase of 7 percentage points in support for SSM and a decrease of 7 percentage points in opposition, to reached parity in early 2013-OCT. Results like this represent a politician's nightmare because no matter how she or he votes on the current SSM bill, a large percentage of the electorate will be upset. However, the momentum in favor of SSM in that future polls by that agency should indicate a majority in in favor of SSM by the time of the next primary in 2014-AUG. The second QMark Research polls already shows 22% margin in favor, and this will probably increase by the time of the primary. The second Honolulu Civil Beat poll shows identical percentages in favor and opposed. If the current trends continue the margin should increase to about 10 percentage points in favor of SSM by the time of the primary.

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2013-JUL-12: Hawaii legislators consider special session to consider same-sex marriage bill:

In early 2013, legislators missed the opportunity to have a vote on a same-sex marriage bill; it never made it out of committee. Normally, the matter could not be considered until the next legislative session begins in 2014-JAN. However, either the Governor or a two-thirds vote by both the Senate and House could convene a special session. Such a session was being considered. In September, Governor Abercrombie (D) called the Legislature into a special session to deal with the SSM matter.

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Discussion of the lawsuit Jackson v. Abercrombie continues in the next essay.

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > HI > here

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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. Jacob Combs, "Plaintiffs appeal Jackson case to Ninth Circuit," Equality on Trial, 2012-SEP-07, at:
  2. Jacob Combs, "A housekeeping update on Jackson v. Abercrombie," Equality on Trial, 2012-DEC-11, at:
  3. Chad Blair, "Is Hawaii Next for Gay Marriage? Local Gay Rights Advocates Say Yes," Honolulu Civil Beat, 2012-NOV-21, at:
  4. "Governor’s Statement on Same Sex Marriage Rulings by U.S. Supreme Court," Hawaii Free Press, 2013-JUN-26, at:
  5. Calculation from the "margin of error Calculator" at American Research Group, Inc. See:
  6. "New Poll: 55% of Hawaii Residents Support the Freedom to Marry,"
  7. Zack Ford, "POLL: Majority In Hawaii Continues To Support Marriage Equality, Think Progress, 2013-AUG-08, at:
  8. Jim McCoy, "Poll finds majority support for marriage equality in Hawaii," Hawaii United for Marriage, 2013-AUG, at:
  9. Michael Levine, "Civil Beat Poll - Hawaii Opposes Gay Marriage, Marijuana, Rail," Honolulu Civil Beat, 2012-MAY-02, at:
  10. Chad Blair, "Hawaii Support For Same-Sex Marriage Grows," Huffington Post, 2013-OCT-21, at:

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Copyright 2012 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-FEB
Latest update: 2014-SEP=09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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