Marriage battle heating up again in Hawaii

Posted on 09 Dec 2011 at 1:20pm

Hawaii's civil unions law, signed last February by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, is set to take effect Jan. 1. But a lesbian couple in Hawaii filed a federal suit this week demanding the right to be legally married in the state.

When most people think about legal same-sex marriages in the United States, they probably think first of Massachusetts, the state that in 2003 became the first to legalize same-sex marriage after the state Supreme Court ruled, in the case Goodridge v. The Department of Public Health, that the state had “no constitutionally adequate reasoning for denying marriage to same-sex couples.” The majority opinion in that case, written by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, also declared that marriage “is not a privilege conferred by the state but a fundamental right that is protected against state interference.”

Since then, five more states — Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York — plus the District of Columbia, the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon and the Suquamish Indian Tribe in Washington State — have legalized same-sex marriage as well, either through a legislative vote or judicial ruling. Of course, the federal government still refuses to recognize same-sex marriage thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, and 28 states — including Texas — have constitutional amendments banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

And most people know all about the battle over marriage equality in California: First the California Supreme Court said banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Then months later the voters approved a constitutional amendment — Proposition 8 — banning gay marriage. Then a federal district court said Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, and now that ruling is on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, with a ruling there possibly coming down at any time now.

Most people know all that.

But what a lot of people might not remember — maybe they never knew — is that the battle over marriage equality began in Hawaii way, way back in 1993, after some same-sex couples sued the state when they were refused marriage licenses, and the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled that the state was discriminating by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 allowing legislators to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, and marriage equality supporters spent the next 13 years trying to get civil unions legalized. That finally happened in February of this year when Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill into law.

That law is set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Now this week, the battle heats up again: Natasha N. Jackson and Janin Kleid on Wednesday, Dec. 7, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Abercrombie, a Democrat, and the Hawaii Department of Health, after the state refused to grant them a marriage license, according to this story by On Top Magazine.

The two women said in their suit that by denying their marriage license application on Nov. 18, the state had violated their 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

Abercrombie said that if the two want to “pursue that through legal channels, that’s fine. But I work through the legislative channels.” The governor also said he believes most people in the state are “very, very happy” with the civil union law taking effect next month, and that “I am very pleased with where we are, where we’re going and where we’re headed.”

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