Momentum gaining for same-sex marriage
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There is a quiet, but steadily growing movement to reintroduce the legalization of same-sex marriage at the Hawaii Legislature next year.
California's Supreme Court ruling on May 15 only makes the movement stronger here, according to Alan Spector, co-chair of the Family Equality Coalition. The May ruling became effective June 16, but still could be overturned by a constitutional amendment if it gets on the California ballot for November.
"The time has absolutely come to double our efforts, and re-engage the public as well as the Hawaii Legislature on this issue," said Spector.
The coalition, a grassroots group that came together last summer, recently began its membership recruitment drive and has met with selected legislators. So far, interest is growing.
Spector said California's ruling "renews our sense of hope and momentum, to see this happening in the largest and most influential state in America." He also says it's significant that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accepts the ruling as well.
Last year, legislators introduced civil union bills attempting to recognize gay couples, but none made it out of committee. Though civil unions are sometimes seen as a step closer, this coalition is seeking full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Jo-Ann Adams, an attorney and founder of the coalition, said the renewed effort transcends both the Democratic and Republican parties.
"We have a few Republicans that are very supportive, and some Democrats that are not," she said. "We need something that transcends the parties and reaches out to the community."
She said challenging the constitution in Hawaii legally is still a possibility.
The coalition, along with the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii and GLEA Foundation, recently sent out poll results showing a public attitude shift on same-sex weddings in the state.
The QMark poll of Hawaii residents -- taken in December -- found more than 70 percent agreed that committed couples and their families, regardless of their sexual preference or orientation, should have the same rights. More than half supported same-sex marriage, with the same legal privileges and protections as opposite-sex marriages.
Compare this to 1998, when only 39 percent of Hawaii residents felt same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
Hawaii was at the forefront of legalizing same-sex marriages -- before California or Massachusetts.
A discrimination suit filed on behalf of three gay couples in Hawaii led to a 1993 state Supreme Court ruling that unless the state could provide a compelling reason, denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the state Constitution.
In 1996 a Circuit Court judge ruled the state failed to show a compelling reason and ordered it to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state appealed, and the state high court overturned the lower court's ruling in 1999.
No marriage licenses were ever issued to same-sex couples in the state of Hawaii.
In 1998, 69 percent of Hawaii residents voted to amend the Constitution, giving the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.
But Spector says this is by no means, a done deal.
He says the amendment gave the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, but that's all.
"Nowhere in there does it say same-sex marriage is banned," he said, "and nowhere in there does it say the Legislature is prevented from legalizing same-sex marriage."