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, 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 states—California, 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.
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