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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 08
Hawaii legislature OKs civil unions
Section One
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Hawaii legislature OKs civil unions

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Hawaii Senate passed a bill on February 16 to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

The vote on SB 232 was 18-5.

The measure had already passed the Hawaii House of Representatives by a vote of 31-19 on February 11. It will now go to the governor for his signature.

'We honor and thank the legislature today for their commitment to equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community in Hawaii,' said Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawaii. 'For the second time in less than a year, legislators have dedicated themselves to providing dignity and respect to all families in the Aloha State.'

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he will sign the bill into law within 10 business days.

'I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha,' Abercrombie said in a statement.

'I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii. This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected.

'For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii,' Abercrombie added.

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.

LGBT rights groups, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU-Hawaii sued the state over lack of recognition for same-sex relationships, but 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.

Stephanie Kon, a self-identified Christian opponent of the civil unions bill, told Star Telegram reporters that the legislature's vote made her sad.

'I feel very grieved for all of us. Now we'll need God even more in our islands,' she said.

Not all religious Hawaiians were grief-stricken, however.

Rev. Fay Hovey of Aloha Maui Gay Weddings said he looked forward to same-sex couples coming to Hawaii for commitment ceremonies.

'They have that fantasy just like any other couple, to come and have a wedding and a honeymoon,' he said. 'When they come to Hawaii, everybody can relax in their spirits and feel included.'

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