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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 08
Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill - First civil unions January 1, 2012
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Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill - First civil unions January 1, 2012

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed his state's same-sex civil unions bill into law on February 23.

'This bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii, everyone who comes here. This is, to me, the essence of the aloha spirit,' Abercrombie said at the signing ceremony. 'With its signing, I want to say 'welcome' to the world, come to paradise.'

Hawaii State Senator Clayton Hee playfully kissed the governor on the head as he signed the bill.

'It's overwhelming,' said Tambry Young, an activist who has pushed for civil unions with her partner for more than two years. 'All the families here can now feel like it doesn't matter what kind of family you have.'

'It's a fantastic day,' said Tony Wagner of HRC, who attended the signing. 'It's been a good couple of months thus far since the elections. We're going to keep fighting for equality day in and day out.'

The Hawaii senate passed the measure on February 16 by an 18-5 margin.

The measure had already passed the Hawaii House of Representatives by a vote of 31-19 on February 11.

According to the Hawaii legislature's website, the bill 'extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.'

Civil unions will begin January 1, 2012. Hawaii will then be one of seven states offering same-sex couples rights equivalent to marriage without allowing actual same-sex marriages.

Five states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages, and three states recognize same-sex marriages concluded in other jurisdictions.

Passage of the civil unions bill marks a victory in a long back-and-forth struggle for recognition of same-sex relationships in Hawaii.

Last year, a similar bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-governor Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie promised during the campaign that he would sign the bill if the legislature passed it.

After Lingle vetoed the earlier bill, Lambda Legal and the ACLU-Hawaii sued the state over lack of recognition for same-sex relationships, but they withdrew the suit when the measure was reintroduced in January this year.

Civil unions bills have been introduced every year since 2001.

In 1993, Hawaii became the first state in the country to grapple with the issue of same-sex marriage.

In that year, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in Baehr v. Miike that the state's refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was discriminatory.

That decision was followed by a 1996 ruling that the state had failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

In 1998, however, Hawaii voters approved the country's first-ever 'defense of marriage' amendment granting the state legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The next year, the Hawaii Supreme Court was forced to rule that because of the new marriage amendment, the state constitution's equal protection clause no longer applied to marriage licenses.

While less than one-third of Hawaiians identify as Christian, the largest Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS (Mormon) Church.

Both are strictly opposed to any recognition of same-sex relationships.

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