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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriages & civil unions in Hawaii

2009: Civil unions bill launched

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Status of loving, committed same-sex relationships in Hawaii during early 2009:

Hawaii has a "reciprocal benefits" law that grants certain specified rights to registered couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex. Included are inheritance and property rights, the ability to sue for wrongful death, and hospital visitation privileges. However, there are hundreds of state benefits, rights and obligations automatically given to opposite-sex marriage couples that are not extended to registered same-sex couples. Health care, spousal leave, and access to family court are not covered.

Equality Hawaii, an agency supporting the creation of civil unions, wrote:

"HB444 would grant couples in a Civil Union all the right, responsibilities, and protections of a married couple, including that precious, all-important right of legal kinship, complete with access to Family Court. Currently Hawaii only has this weird half-arrangement called Reciprocal Beneficiaries, into which any two adults, related or not, can enter. An RB is a statement of household interdependence that in theory carries a few rights such as hospital visitation, inheritance, life insurance, and joint tenancy in entirety, which basically means that a surviving RB partner inherits an owned property without having to dissolve it and re-buy it, and can stay in a rental property whether his or her name was on the lease or not."

"It's not mandated by law for RBs to be entitled to health-care coverage under a family plan, as it is for spouses. And if they are a gay or unrelated adult couple, RBs have no access to family courts. Because no one really knows what a Reciprocal Beneficiary is, and there is no easily-accessible enumerated list of rights, having those rights in times of crisis is undeniably difficult. To say that RBs are sufficient protections is an unfunny joke. RBs, like DPs in Wisconsin, don't carry a right of kinship, and thus they are dreadfully inadequate in their protections, and are therefore not substantially similar to marriage." 5

There are also over 1,050 federal benefits and rights that opposite-sex married couples automatically receive, but that couples registered under the reciprocal benefits law are excluded from. Even if a system of civil unions is created, it will bring to them only the state benefits that married couples receive. Federal benefits are currently excluded because of the federal DOMA act.

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Impact HB 444 would have on an actual couple:

KITV-4, a Hawaii'an television station, broadcast a short story about the bill on 2010-JAN-14. The transcript reads, in part:

Voiceover: Kimberly Allen and Theresa Gonzales have been together eleven years.

Kimberly Allen: We take care of each other like we're married, but, I think that a lot of the laws that are here now make it a little more difficult for us.

Voiceover: Gonzales is battling stage IV cancer, Kim at her side every day, but Gonzales says even a blood relative she's never met could have more say over her care.

Theresa Gonzales: They could make all the decisions and leave her out because we have no rights, no legal rights. And that is wrong, that is so wrong.

Fawcett on Capitol grounds: The State Legislature appears ready to give gay partners the same legal rights as heterosexual partners. State Senators say they expect to approve the Civil Unions bill in the first two weeks of this session that begins January 20th.  Then it goes to the House for its consideration.

The Senate approved HB 444 on 2010-JAN-22.

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2009-JAN: Proposed civil union bill HB 444:

House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, (D-33rd), sponsored a bill to make civil unions  available to loving, committed same-sex couples. He referred to previous unsuccessful attempts to legalize same-sex marriages, saying:

"I think it's just time. ... I think for the advocates that support civil unions, clearly, for a lot of them, it's a compromise. In the past, it was all or nothing. And this year, it has changed a lot, and I think that has helped them. I think they are a little bit more aware of the political process now." 1

The bill would:

bulletAllow certain couples to obtain a civil union license. Both must be:
bulletOf the same sex, and
bullet18 years of age or older,
bulletNot a partner in another civil union or marriage,
bulletNot closely related to each other. 1
bulletAuthorize judges, retired judges, and clergypersons to perform unions.

bulletPotential judges or clergy who fail or refuse to solemnize a civil union are protected from any fines or other penalties.

bulletThe couple must first obtain a civil union license from the Department of Health.
bulletThe parners "shall have all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage..."
bulletThey would obtain state benefits only. They would receive none of the approximately 1,050 federal benefits, protections, and responsibilities given to opposite-sex married couples.
bulletRecognize marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships that have been validly performed in other jurisdictions as equivalent to a civil union.
bullet Regard same-sex marriages performed elsewhere as civil unions in Hawaii.
bulletCome into effect on 2010-JAN-01. 2
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If the bill becomes law, Hawaii would become the fourth state after New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont to provide civil unions for its citizens.

There are 51 members in the House. As of 2009-JAN-24, 32 members (63%) had signed the bill. Included were state House Speaker Calvin Say, (D-20th), and state Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, (D-41st), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. By FEB-05, support had risen to 42 members (82%). 3

Some commentators have anticipated future resistance from the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee.

bulletTwo senators on the committee are opposed to civil unions. State Senator Mike Gabbard, (D-19th) said: "The people of Hawai'i ... decided this issue 10 or 11 years ago, when 70 percent of the people voted against same-sex marriage. And, to me, civil unions is [sic] same-sex marriage with a different name."
bulletTwo senators, both Democrats, are known to favor civil unions.
bulletOne senator, Robert Bunda, (D-22nd) opposed same-sex marriage in the past but said he will keep an open mind on civil unions. He said:

"For me, I have to read and digest what's in the bill before I actually make a decision. I've been told I'm the swing vote, I don't know for sure. If I am, my priority is to make sure that I understand fully what's before us." 2

Governor Linda Lingle (R) has not yet revealed her position on the measure. She has veto power over any bill passed by the House and Senate. Her veto would require a 2/3rds vote by both the House and Senate to overturn.

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Support for the bill:

The Family Equality Coalition was formed after the failure of a civil unions bill in 2007. Alan Spector, a social worker and co-chair of the coalition said that their long-term goal remains same-sex marriage. However, obtaining civil unions would be a significant step forward.

The coalition has obtained support from labor unions, the inter-faith community, social service groups, the university community, civil rights groups, etc. Their membership has risen from 40 members in 2008-JUN to 1,300 members by early 2009-FEB.

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Opposition to the bill:

Hawaii Family Forum is one group that opposes the bill. Eva Andrade, their Director of Communications, also seems to treat civil unions and same-sex marriage as identical. She wrote:

"Both Hawaii Family Forum and the Roman Catholic Church in the Hawaii [sic] support fixing Hawaii's reciprocal beneficiary law to provide benefits to those in need in a way that is not based on sex partner status; however, some legislators (and supporters of civil unions) are not interested in fixing reciprocal beneficiaries. They prefer to establish civil unions."

"We urge you to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee and your own legislators as soon as possible to urge them to oppose civil unions (HB 444) and remind them that the people of Hawaii have spoken overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage."

"Without significant involvement from the grassroots, civil unions may well become law. Rest assured, proponents will not stop at civil unions. The battle over traditional marriage will either be fought here and now, or it will be fought later. Once civil unions become law, it will be very hard to overturn it [sic]. " 4

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Site navigation:

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

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > HI > here

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text of House Bill # 444 is online at:

  2. Derrick DePledge, "Hawaii civil unions backed by a majority in state House
    32 of 51 House members sign on to measure that would legalize partnership," The Honolulu Advertiser, 2009-JAN-24, at:

  3. "Keori," "LIVEBLOG: Hawaii Civil Unions Bill First Public Hearing,"  Pam's House Blend, 2009-FEB-05, at:

  4. Eva Andrade, "Civil Unions Take Center Stage at Hawaii State Capitol. Same Sex Marriage Right Around the Corner." Hawaii Reporter, 2009-JAN-30, at:

  5. Keori, "Equality Hawaii Announces 2010 Push For Civil Unions Bill, HB444," Pam's House Blend, 2010-JAN-16, at:

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This essay is for general information only. Portions lack the precision of the legal language of HB 444. Do not make any personal decisions based on material on this web site.

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Copyright © 2009 & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-FEB-08
Latest update and review: 2010-JUN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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