HRC Blog

Hawaii Governor Signs Civil Unions into Law

Today Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the Civil Unions bill 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. “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.” “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.”

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. 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. 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.

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