( Honolulu, February 23, 2011 ) Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i ( ACLU ) applaud 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 filed a lawsuit in July, 2010 after then-Governor Linda Lingle vetoed HB444, the previous civil unions bill. By providing the remedy sought by the lawsuit, SB232 eliminates the need to continue with that case.
"We're delighted with the Senate's vote this bill will help thousands of families. And when Governor Abercrombie adds his signature, it will send a strong message that the State of Hawai`i is committed to protecting all Hawai`i's families," said Laurie Temple, Staff Attorney with the ACLU.
"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."
Hawai`i's constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done. This means same-sex couples cannot ask Hawai`i's courts to require full equality through marriage, but can call upon the Legislature to take this essential step in the future. In the meantime, civil unions will provide much needed protection for couples and their families. But because civil unions are a lesser status than civil marriage, they cannot satisfy the government's constitutional duty to treat everyone as equals under the law, and to abolish class distinctions that unjustly demean and invite private discrimination against vulnerable minority groups.
As of SB232's passage, five states ( CT, IA, MA, NH and VT ) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Six states ( CA, IL, NV, NJ, OR and WA ) offer broad state-law protection through civil union or registered domestic partnership; Hawai`i will make it seven. Five more states ( Hawaii plus CO, MD, ME and WI ) offer more limited protections through a non-marriage status ( passage of SB232 will not change Hawai`i's reciprocal beneficiaries law ) . Others ( including at least MD and NY, and probably NM and, for some purposes, RI ) respect marriages that same-sex couples entered into in other states. Consequently, based on population estimates from the 2010 U.S. Census, as of February 2011, more than 40% of the United States population resides in a jurisdiction offering same-sex couples at least some form of state-level legal protection.
Visit the websites of Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Hawai`i for information about SB232 and Hawai`i law:
HONOLULU - Equality Hawaii, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) civil rights organization, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization, today congratulated Governor Neil Abercrombie, the Hawaii legislature and the people of Hawaii for enacting civil unions into law. The legislation provides that equal rights and responsibilities of married couples in Hawaii be afforded to thousands of non-married couples in the state including same-sex couples. The law takes effect January 1, 2012.
"Today is a truly momentous day in Hawaii and a great step forward in our struggle towards full equality," said Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawaii. "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."
"I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "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."
The struggle for equal relationship recognition for same-sex couples began in Hawaii in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Baehr v. Lewin, which found a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples. In 1998, a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the authority to define marriage was approved by public vote, and the legislature subsequently enacted a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Since then, attitudes towards same-sex relationship recognition in Hawaii and around the country have changed. Today, a vast majority of Hawaii residents support civil unions and a majority support marriage equality.
"Neil Abercrombie has been a stalwart advocate and friend of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for decades," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Today he fulfills a major campaign promise to lay the issue of civil unions to rest, and finally provide equal rights and responsibilities to thousands of same-sex families in the Aloha State. The Human Rights Campaign thanks Equality Hawaii and other coalition partners, as well as our friends in the legislature for continuing to fight for what is right and just."
"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," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, House Majority Leader. "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."
The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Hawaii have worked closely together since 2008 to build both public and legislative support for civil unions. Through this joint effort, tens of thousands of phone calls, emails, postcards, petitions and handwritten letters have been sent to legislators urging them to approve this legislation. More on our work in Hawaii is at www.equalityhawaii.org, www.hrc.org/HawaiiWorkSummary and www.hrcbackstory.org/hawaii.
HRC and Equality Hawaii recognize the leadership of Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, Speaker Calvin Say, House Judiciary Chair Gilbert Keith-Agaran, Senate Judiciary Chair Clayton Hee, Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria and Senate President Shan Tsutsui, as well as all other legislators who stood up in the face of opposition. We also recognize the contributions of the ACLU of Hawaii, Da Moms, GLBT Caucus of the Hawaii Democratic Party, Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii, Lambda Legal, PFLAG-Oahu, Pride Alliance Hawaii, Pride at Work and UNITE HERE Local 5.
Hawaii joins thirteen other states plus Washington, D.C. with laws providing an expansive form of state-level relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C. provide marriage to same-sex couples under state law. New York and Maryland recognize out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages, but do not provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples in state. Five other statesCalifornia, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington provide same-sex couples with access to almost all of the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. A new law providing for civil unions in Illinois will take effect on June 1st.
Colorado, Maine and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits, not all rights provided to married couples. An attorney general opinion and subsequent court ruling in Rhode Island resulted in limited recognition of out-of-jurisdiction marriages of same-sex couples. California recognized marriage for same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality. Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as similar to domestic partnerships.
Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state. For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State_Laws.
Equality Hawaii is dedicated to securing equality for all Hawaii's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. www.EqualityHawaii.org