3 states vie to become next with marriage equality

neilabercrombie

Gov. Neil Abercrombie

The governor said he would call a special session to consider a marriage equality bill.

No, not Rick Perry, and no, not in Texas.

The governor is Neil Abercrombie and the state is Hawaii, where the idea of marriage equality began two decades ago and special sessions are called for constructive purposes. Abercrombie announced his intentions on his blog yesterday and posted the draft of the bill.

Hawaii currently has civil unions that offer the same rights and benefits as marriage on a state level but, since the Defense of Marriage Act ruling in June, are not equal on a federal level.

Baehr v. Lewin was filed in 1991 and the state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the Hawaiian constitution. A state law prohibiting same-sex marriage passed in 1994. That was found unconstitutional in 1996 but a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman passed in 1998.

In 2009, the first civil union bill passed in Hawaii. The Republican governor vetoed it. After Abercrombie, a Democrat, was elected in 2011, it passed again and he signed it. Now Hawaii may become the next marriage equality state.

That is, if New Mexico doesn’t beat them to it. Six New Mexico counties have started issuing marriage licenses in the last week, but yesterday, all 33 county clerks asked the state Supreme Court for a statewide ruling.

And in Illinois, where a marriage equality bill has been languishing since the beginning of the year, the American Civil Liberties Union hired former state Republican chair Pat Brady to lobby Republican legislators. Brady was forced from his position because of his pro-equality stance. The bill has already passed the state Senate and needs to pass in the House. Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill.

—  David Taffet

Marriage battle heating up again in Hawaii

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.”

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Corpus Christi school refuses GSA; Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill

Nikki Peet, 17, wants to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi. But school officials won’t allow it.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. In an apparent violation of federal law, Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi is refusing to allow students to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance. After reading the story, go here to get contact info for the school, then give them a call.

2. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed civil unions into law Wednesday, making Hawaii the seventh state in the nation to offer the legal status to same-sex couples. The law takes effect Jan. 1. “E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome,” Abercrombie said in remarks before signing the bill into law. “This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise.”

3. Two GOP lawmakers in Tennessee have introduced a bill that would prohibit schools from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. “The Don’t Say Gay bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach,” said Ben Byers with the Tennessee Equality Project. “It limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom. It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”

—  John Wright

Updates from California and Hawaii

The California Supreme Court justices announced today that they will be issuing an opinion on whether YesOn8.com, the group that successfully pushed for Proposition 8 amending the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage there, has standing to appeal Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution.

That announcement further delays the 9th Court of Appeals’ consideration of the appeal in the case that could ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Further west, news coming out of Hawaii was much more positive, as a bill creating civil unions for same-sex couples  cleared its final legislative hurdle and is headed to the governor’s desk.

Although Republican then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed essentially the same bill last July. But current Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he will sign it into law.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Civil unions in Hawaii; drug bust aboard world’s largest gay cruise; Lady Gaga

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Hawaii is set to become the seventh state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, after the House passed the measure Friday. The civil unions bill now returns to the Senate, which has already passed it once and could send it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie as early as this week. Abercrombie’s predecessor, Linda Lingle, vetoed similar legislation last year. But Abercrombie supports the bill.

2. Authorities arrested a suspected drug dealer aboard the Atlantis ship that’s been billed as the world’s largest gay cruise, during a stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Steven Barry Krumholz, 51, of West Hollywood, Calif., was arrested after authorities searched his cabin and found more than 142 ecstasy pills, nearly 3 grams of methamphetamine, a small quantity of ketamine and about $51,000 in cash.

3. In case you missed it, Lady Gaga (above) was hatched out of an egg at the beginning of her performance of “Born This Way” on Sunday night at the Grammy Awards. (Video of the performance, at least until it gets pulled, is below.)  For a full list of Grammy winners in major categories, go here.


—  John Wright

Lesbian appointed to Supreme Court in Hawaii as civil unions bill clears Senate committee

Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie named lesbian judge Sabrina Shizue McKenna, 53, to the Hawaiian Supreme Court, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. McKenna is senior judge of Oahu’s Family Court.

In a press release, Abercrombie said:

“This is the most important decision I have made in my career. This appointment sets the course for the state and its legal direction for the next several years. I am completely confident that Judge McKenna’s appointment will be something I’m proud of for the rest of my life.”

Abercrombie was elected in November and McKenna is his first judicial appointment.

Also in Hawaii, a civil union bill, similar to one vetoed by Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle last July, passed a Senate committee. Lingle vetoed the bill, calling it same-sex marriage by a different name. Lingle was a Republican. Abercrombie, a Democrat, said he would sign the bill.

Equality Hawaii would like to see the bill extended to address health, insurance and tax codes. The bill was schedule to go to the full Senate today for a reading today and a final action on Friday. A similar bill has not been introduced to the Hawaiian House yet.

The Advertiser reports that Gary Okino, an opponent of civil unions, ran against the bill’s main House sponsor and lost. He wins the asinine reason of the week to be against civil unions award: Okino said civil unions would “rob children of happiness.”

In its reporting of the appointment of McKenna to the bench, the Advertiser called her the first lesbian appointed to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. We’re not sure, but she may be the first open lesbian appointed to a Supreme Court in any state. Anyone know for sure? (For the record, despite the insinuations, no federal Supreme Court justice, whether actually lesbian or not, is openly lesbian. And Justice Souter is officially a bachelor, certainly not openly gay).

—  David Taffet