Final approval of a proposal to legalize civil unions is a step closer to same-sex marriage in Hawaii, supporters say.
"We hope so," said Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. "We should continue to work toward it."
As supporters celebrated and cheered Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signing of the bill to allow civil unions yesterday, opponents lamented that they also see the new law as a step closer to redefining marriage in Hawaii.
"Passage of this legislation is just a step toward the legalization of same-sex marriage," the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii, said in a statement.
The law grants all couples regardless of sex the ability to enter into a civil union, a legal status with the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of traditional marriage.
"The enactment of these marriage-like benefits in a civil union will intensify the legal attack on marriage," the Catholic Conference added. "It will not appease those who wish to redefine the institution of marriage."
Abercrombie’s approval of the civil unions bill came the same day the Obama administration said it could no longer defend the constitutionality of the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.
Hawaii voters in 1998 overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the authority to define marriage.
"Passage of this law is just a desperate and dishonest attempt to force same-sex ‘marriage’ on Hawaii because civil unions for same-sex couples were never the goal," the Hawaii Family Forum said in a news release.
Acting Attorney General David Louie said the new law simply defines a different set of circumstances and does not affect the state Constitution’s definition of marriage.
"It establishes civil unions, which provide certain rights for people that previously were not allowed to have these rights in a committed relationship," Louie said.
Gay rights advocates say same-sex marriage is the ultimate goal, but that pursuit will likely be left to future generations.
"When and if that issue comes up, I think, is something for another generation of leaders to handle," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, the House majority leader and primary sponsor of the legislation. "I look forward to passing on that torch to the next generation that wants to take on that fight."