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For those who can’t marry, reciprocal benefits remain

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QUESTION: Now that civil unions has been approved and same-sex marriage is on its way to being approved, is the reciprocal benefits law still alive and well? We signed up for it some time ago, but very little information regarding just what it covers is available. Now I’m afraid it may no longer be valid because of recent events. We are not considering a civil union or marriage. Our primary reason for signing up for reciprocal benefits is hospital visitation.

ANSWER: The reciprocal benefits law remains in effect for people who are prevented by law from getting married.

In Hawaii, under Chapter 572 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes — — that has meant same-sex couples and blood relatives.

If the same-sex marriage bill is approved by the state Senate as expected today, same-sex couples already in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship can continue to receive benefits under that relationship.

But same-sex couples who aren’t currently receiving reciprocal benefits would not be able to get them once they are legally allowed to get married.

Anne Lopez, special assistant to the state attorney general, explained how the reciprocal benefits law would be affected by the passage of the same-sex marriage bill:

» Same-sex couples currently not in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship cannot enter into that relationship after the bill is signed into law because they would have the right to be married.

» Same-sex couples already in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship will not see a change in their benefits if same-sex marriage is legalized. Rights and benefits that have accrued to them as reciprocal beneficiaries "will continue uninterrupted," Lopez said.

» If you want to get married and are able to get married under the marriage statute, you do not have to terminate your reciprocal beneficiary relationship.

Instead, "If you want to get married and now are able to get married, then your reciprocal beneficiary status automatically will terminate," Lopez said. "But again, you won’t lose your rights that accrued during that period."

For example, a same-sex couple owns a house together as so-called "tenants by the entirety," and they decide to get married.

"There will be no break in that status," Lopez said.

Tenants by the entirety can’t sell or give away their interest in the property without the consent of the other, and a tenant inherits the property at the other’s death.


Those interested in entering into a reciprocal beneficiary relationship must register with the Department of Health.

You can get information about reciprocal benefits on the department’s website — — including how to register for such a relationship and how to terminate one.

Lopez said that while civil union partners (under state law) have the same rights and benefits as people who are married, "reciprocal beneficiaries have fewer rights than people who are married."

"But one of the important rights for reciprocal beneficiaries has been being able to own property as tenants by the entirety," she said.

She also noted that some companies "have required, at the very least, a reciprocal beneficiary relationship in order to extend health benefits to the partner."

In addition to real property and health insurance rights, other rights reciprocal beneficiaries have include rights to inheritance, hospital visitation and health care decision-making, and to sue for wrongful death.

The reciprocal benefits law has been in effect in Hawaii since 1997.

The civil union law, which took effect in 2012, provides same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples in the state.


To Denny, with the smiling face and helpful heart. In mid-August I took a terrible fall on the grass strip at Foodland Market City next to Kapiolani Boulevard. While on my back, trying to catch my wind and wondering how I’d ever get up because of my terrible knees, this kind man pulled his car to the side of Kapiolani and first sat with me, then helped me up and stayed with me until I could walk. Thank you for showing such aloha, Denny. Blessings to you. — Suzi

Write to “Kokua Line” at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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