Drive for Freedom to Marry Not Ended By Disappointing Hawaii Ruling

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December 10, 1999

(NEW YORK, December 10, 1999) -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund expressed disappointment Friday that the Hawaii Supreme Court did not strike a final blow at discrimination in civil marriage because of a state constitutional amendment. At the same time, Lambda emphasized that the clock cannot be turned back on the gay civil rights struggle.

“We are determined to win no less than full equality, including the freedom to marry, for lesbians and gay men. Our momentum in this struggle cannot be stopped,” Lambda Marriage Project Director Evan Wolfson said, adding, “This historic case opened a whole new chapter in our civil rights movement when it launched the national discussion about gay people, our families, our love, and our right to equality.” Lambda and Hawaii civil rights attorney Dan Foley are co-counsel in the marriage case, Baehr v. Anderson.

While the state’s High Court in 1993 held that the restriction on civil marriage for same-sex couples violated the Hawaii Constitution, it ruled late Thursday that a state constitutional amendment voters approved last year now mooted the case.

In 1998, the radical right poured millions of dollars into the ugly campaign to promote Hawaii’s discriminatory marriage law and divide the people of Hawaii, changing the constitution to block same-sex couples from civil marriage.

But the Court let stand the 1996 decision by Hawaii First Circuit Judge Kevin S. C. Chang, who found the state had no reason to exclude gay people from civil marriage and struck down the ban on issuing them marriage licenses. The state had appealed that ruling.

Said Foley, “The Court held that its hands were tied with regard to marriage licenses but left in tact its holding that denial of the protections that come with marriage violates the constitution. We now look to the legislature to end the Catch-22 that links protections to marriage then tells same-sex couples they may not marry.”

The Court’s unpublished summary order said, “The marriage amendment validated [the discriminatory rules] by taking the statute out of the ambit of the equal protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution.”

The justices also reaffirmed the state constitution’s protections against discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, and indicated that the Baehr precedent could be relied upon in future litigation challenging the denial of individual marriage benefits and protections denied to same-sex couples.

Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, “Civil rights movements, by their very nature, always face an uphill battle. Despite this ruling, we are confident we will prevail and win for all our families the protections and security they deserve, including the freedom to marry.”

Wolfson added, “Raw power politics and the fierce, sustained campaign of our opponents prevented us from achieving full equality in this century. Even so, this case has left us in a transformed position.” He pointed to a recent poll that found two-thirds of all Americans now believe that gay people will win the freedom to marry.

The struggle for the freedom to marry continues in Vermont, where a case is pending, and in California, where notorious anti-gay state lawmaker Pete Knight has placed the “Limit on Marriages” initiative on the March 2000 ballot to discriminate against the future lawful marriages of gay couples.

(Baehr v. Anderson, No. 20371)

Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Evan Wolfson 212-809-8585 x 205


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