Civil unions would be minimal sequel to California ruling
A movement has begun to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii.
Hawaii legislators should direct their attention in November to California in deciding how to respond to the movement in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. At the very least, the Legislature should grant civil unions, giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples.
Same-sex couples have been rushing to the chapel since June 16, when the California Supreme Court ruled that gay couples have a state constitutional right to marry. A proposed constitutional initiative is on the November ballot, and each side of the issue is expected to have raised $15 million before the polls close, according to the Los Angeles Times.
If the high court's ruling stands, Hawaii same-sex couples, numbering nearly 3,000, are likely to schedule weddings in the Golden State, generating $10.7 million in its economy. They then could return to the islands and sue the state for refusing to recognize their California marriages.
Those lawsuits could not be successful if Hawaii recognized civil unions allowing gay couples all the rights of traditional married couples. Hawaii's Supreme Court would likely follow the New Jersey high court's 2006 ruling that same-sex partners have a constitutional right to equal rights and benefits.
New Jersey Justice Barry Albin wrote that the issue was "not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people."
Legislation recognizing civil unions would reflect Hawaii's changing attitudes toward same-sex bonds. A poll taken by the year-old Family Equality Commission, the state Democratic Party's GLBT Coalition and the GLEA Foundation indicated that 70 percent of residents believe committed families should have the same rights regardless of their sexual preference or orientation.
Ten years ago only 39 percent of Hawaii residents believed same-sex couples should have the right to marry. While the questions asked in the polls are not the same, they nevertheless indicate a shift in public attitude.
Hawaii became the focal point of the issue in 1993, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the ban against gay marriage was unconstitutional, prompting dozens of states to change their constitutions to create such a ban. In 1998, Hawaii's voters approved a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to restrict marriage to couples of the opposite sex, validating what the Legislature already had done.
Hawaii's Legislature retains the authority to reverse itself and legalize same-sex marriage, but granting civil unions might be more politically viable.