Good News From Hawaii

Both houses of the Hawaii state legislature have passed a strong marriage-equivalent domestic partnership bill, and the newly elected governor has stated that he will sign the bill within the next ten days. Effective January 1, 2012, Hawaii couples will be able to register as domestic partners and enjoy all of the rights (and obligations) of marriage under Hawaii law. They will not be able to get legally married and none of the federal rights of marriage will be extended to them, but still, this is a great victory.

It’s especially significant in light of the 15 years of marriage debates in Hawaii. Hawaii was the first state to bring a challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage; interestingly, it was brought by a couple represented by a straight lawyer from the local ACLU, because the established gay legal community had mixed feelings about fighting for marriage. The initial court victories were very significant, but as had been feared, they triggered a terrible backlash. A voter approved initiative prevented the courts from allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry, and even worse, it spawned a fear of gay marriage that led to the passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The legacy of that fight has lingered for a long time, and so this latest success is a sweet victory for Hawaiians. It is important that we recognize the practical value of extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples in Hawaii, and also acknowledge the meaningful political victory that this law represents.

We now have five states and the District of Columbia that allow full legal marriage, and seven states that have marriage-equivalent registration. And, there are three states that generally recognize the partnerships and marriages entered into in these other states. That makes 16 states where there is some form of formal recognition of same-sex marital rights.

And that is good news!

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