Gay rights advocates will likely place increased pressure on Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the state Legislature to approve gay marriage in Hawaii after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits.
Same-sex and heterosexual couples in Hawaii have the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as married couples under a state law passed two years ago.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 that gives the Legislature the power to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
But attitudes toward gay marriage appear to have shifted.
Abercrombie has refused to defend the state’s marriage law in a federal court challenge brought by same-sex couples, although the state Department of Health is defending the law.
The governor also urged state lawmakers in a May speech before Oahu Democrats to support marriage equality.
"Although the Supreme Court did not directly require that same sex couples in other states be allowed to marry, I am encouraged by the fact that language in the Windsor ruling supports my position in the Hawaii lawsuit, which is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In that lawsuit, I argue the Constitution’s equal protection clause requires same sex marriage in all states, including Hawaii," Abercrombie said in a statement.
"I believe my position to support a constitutional right to same sex marriage in Hawaii and elsewhere was given a substantial boost by today’s Supreme Court rulings. I will continue to work to assure justice and equality for all."
The Supreme Court’s decisions today will likely lead to a push to enact gay marriage during the next session of the Legislature.
Lawmakers approved a resolution last session asking a task force to study the social, economic and religious impacts of enacting marriage equality in Hawaii and to report back to the Legislature before the next session opens in January. The task force was also urged to examine the anticipated Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality.
"Great day for civil rights," Jo-Ann Adams, an attorney and gay rights activist, said in an email shortly after the court’s decisions were announced.
"This is a huge victory for loving, married couples and their families across the country," Lois Perrin, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and founding member of Hawaii United for Marriage said in a statement. "This high court ruling affirms that all committed couples who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment."
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the court’s ruling striking down the provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that had denied legally married gay couples federal benefits "a victory for all Americans."
"Today’s decision means that LGBT individuals across the country are given the same rights under federal law as every married couple, and equal treatment under the law," Schatz said in a statement. "Because of this decision, the federal government can no longer tell men and women who they can or cannot marry, and same-sex married couples can now enjoy the same federal benefits as the rest of us. I have always believed in marriage equality, and will continue to do everything in my power to help our LGBT friends and loved ones achieve equality."
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said it is "a historic day for civil rights and marriage equality."
"The marriage equality movement has come a long way, both in Hawaii and across the country. In 1998, I was part of a small group of Hawaii leaders who spoke out against an amendment to the Hawaii constitution that enabled legislation banning same-sex marriage," Hirono said in a statement.
"There are still many instances in our society where discrimination occurs — from our immigration system to workplaces across the country to states that still ban gay marriage. I will continue to join efforts to end these injustices and fight for equal treatment of all people under the law."
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, said Hawaii should approve marriage equality.
"It has been a historic day, but we still have work to do," Hanabusa said in a statement. "It is time for Hawaii to join that growing chorus of voices across our nation in proclaiming that we will not tolerate discrimination in marriage.
"I am proud to have helped pass Hawaii’s civil unions law for the first time, which offered couples equal rights under state law. That was the best we could do at the time, but now that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages, our state should amend its laws, end discrimination in marriage, and make marriage equality in Hawaii a reality. They can count on my support."
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, applauded the court’s decision. "Ultimately, government should have no place in the most personal aspects of our lives," she said in a statement. "Until that day comes, all people must be treated equally under the law. The Supreme Court’s ruling is welcome."