HONOLULU — Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i (ACLU) are applauding 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.
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.
The mission of the ACLU and its Hawai`i affiliate is to protect the fundamental freedoms contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide