Lambda Legal Applauds Final Legislative Approval of Hawai`i Civil Union Bill

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“This is a great day for all Hawai`i families.”
February 16, 2011

(Honolulu, February 16, 2011) — Lambda Legal reacted with pleasure to the final legislative approval today of SB 232, a bill establishing civil unions for Hawai`i couples. Voting 18-5, the Hawai`i Senate accepted amendments made before the House passed the bill last Friday, February 11, 2011 by a 31-19 vote.

The bill originated in the Senate, which approved it on January 28, 2011 by a 19-6 margin. It now goes to Governor Abercrombie, who not only has promised to sign it but made it a campaign issue last year. Once enacted, the new law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

“This is a great day for all Hawai`i families,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. “We commend and thank Hawai`i’s legislators for deciding it’s time for the state to take this important step. We’re here thanks to years of hard work by community members, people of faith, and civic and political leaders. Our plaintiffs and thousands of other affected families can sleep easier knowing their legal system fully covers them. It will be a pleasure to dismiss our lawsuit and turn to helping families use this system. At least thirteen other states and an impressive list of foreign countries prove that no one is hurt and all families are helped when everyone is covered under broad protective laws. The Senate acted today in the best interest of all Hawai`i by passing SB 232.”

Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in July, 2010 after then-Governor Linda Lingle vetoed HB 444, the previous civil unions bill. The remedy requested in that suit will be provided by this bill, meaning there will be no need for the lawsuit to continue.

“The Senate vote couldn´t have gone better,” said Loren Javier, Director of Lambda Legal’s Western Regional Office. “This bill will deliver badly needed protections to thousands of families. When Governor Abercrombie signs it into law, it will send a strong message that the State of Hawai`i values all its citizens. Great credit for today’s vote goes to the thousands of community members who for years have been sign-waving during rush hour, calling their representatives, and sharing their stories with their legislators, their neighbors and their families. Today, we’re one step closer to equality.”

Hawai`i’s constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done. This means same-sex couples cannot ask Hawai`i’s courts to require full equality through marriage. Although civil unions are a lesser status than marriage, they will provide a full range of state law protections and duties to gay and lesbian couples, such as access to family court to dissolve the legal status in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as spouses must, and other vital protections. Bills to offer civil unions have been under steady consideration in the Hawai`i Legislature each year since 2001.

As of SB232’s passage, five states (CT, IA, MA, NH and VT) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Six states (CA, IL, NV, NJ, OR and WA) offer broad state-law protection through civil union or registered domestic partnership; Hawai`i will make it seven. Five more states (Hawaii plus CO, ME, MD and WI) offer more limited protections through a non-marriage status (passage of SB232 will not change Hawai`i’s reciprocal beneficiaries law). Others (including at least MD and NY, and probably NM and, for some purposes RI) respect marriages and/or non-marriage statuses that same-sex couples entered into in other states. Consequently, based on population estimates from the 2010 U.S. Census, as of February 2011, more than 40% of the United States population resides in a jurisdiction offering same-sex couples at least some form of state-level legal protection.

Visit Lambda Legal’s website for these educational materials about SB232 and Hawai`i law:


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.


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