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Same-sex marriage in Hawaii

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Same-sex marriage in Hawaii has been legal since December 2, 2013. The Hawaii State Legislature held a special session beginning October 28, 2013, and passed the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act legalizing same-sex marriage. Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the legislation on November 13, and same-sex couples began marrying on December 2. Hawaii also allows both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to formalize their relationships legally in the form of civil unions and reciprocal beneficiary relationships. Civil unions provide the same rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage at the state level, while reciprocal beneficiary relationships provide a more limited set of rights.

Hawaii's denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was first challenged in state court in 1991, and the plaintiffs initially met with some success. But Hawaii voters modified the state constitution in 1998 to allow the legislature to restrict marriage to mixed-sex couples. By the time the Supreme Court of Hawaii considered the final appeal in the case in 1999, it upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

When Hawaii's civil union status took effect at the start of 2012, same-sex marriages established in other jurisdictions were considered civil unions in Hawaii.

Background Edit

The Baehr cases (1991–1996) Edit

Baehr v. Lewin was a 1991 case by the Hawaii State Supreme Court that found the state's refusal to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses discriminatory.[1] In the majority opinion delivered by Judge Steven Levinson, he presents a twofold argument: 1) that marriage is not a fundamental right, and is not included in the right to privacy, but that 2) denying same-sex couples from marriage would be a breach of equal protection.[1]

Levinson argued that the Hawaii Constitution states in Article I, Section 5 that, "[n]o person shall ... be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of the person's civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex, or ancestry."[1] Therefore, he concluded, denying marriage licenses to couples based on sex is a violation of the Hawaii Constitution.

In the dissenting opinion, Judge Walter Meheula Heen states that he agrees with the majority that marriage is not a fundamental right, but disagrees that denying same-sex couples marriage is discrimination.[2]

Three years after the court delivered its opinion in Baehr v. Lewin in 1993, the Supreme Court had to tackle the issue again in Baehr v. Miike. Judge Kevin Chang delivered the opinion of the Court yet again, asserting that, in order to limit one's rights, there must be justification "by compelling state interests".[3] According to Judge Chang, the defendant was unable to prove that there was compelling interest behind his motives to limit the rights of others, and thus his denial of marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional.[3]

Constitutional Amendment 2 (1998)Edit

Following Baehr v. Lewin, voters in 1998 approved a constitutional amendment granting the Hawaii State Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, which resulted in a law banning same-sex marriage.[4] Civil unions were not restricted.[4] Bills creating civil unions were considered several times, but failed to receive committee approval prior to 2009.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Levinson, Steven H. (1993-05-05), Baehr v. Lewin, Honolulu, Hawaii, <>. Retrieved on 23 December 2009 
  2. Heen, Walter M. (1993-05-05), Baehr v. Lewin, Honolulu, Hawaii, <>. Retrieved on 23 December 2009 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chang, Kevin (1996-12-03), Baehr v. Miike, Honolulu, Hawaii, <>. Retrieved on 23 December 2009 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Niesse, Mark. "Hawaii is latest civil unions battleground", Associated Press, Google News, 2009-02-22. Retrieved on 2009-03-01. Archived from the original on 2009-03-01. 

External linksEdit

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Same-sex unions in the United States

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