Friday, February 11, 2011

Hawaii Legislature Passes Civil Unions Bill!

Just a few weeks after Illinois' civil union bill was signed into law, Hawaii is rushing to join in the action. Today, the Hawaii State House passed SB 232 by a vote of 31-19, following up on an earlier 19-6 vote by the State Senate on similar legislation. The bill needs to go back to the Senate for a quick concurrence on amendments and then on to Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie's desk, who has promised to sign it into law, unlike Republican Governor Linda Lingle who vetoed an almost identical measure named HB 444 last year.

Interestingly, Hawaii's civil unions bill, unlike California's comprehensive domestic partnership law, is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples of any age:
Senate Bill 232 would grant same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into a civil union with all of the rights, protections, benefits and responsibilities of traditional marriage.
The House changes — recommended by the state Attorney General's Office — clarify that because civil unions will not be recognized under federal law, certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that apply to husbands and wives in Hawaii would apply with the same force and effect to partners in civil unions. Family Court will also have jurisdiction in matters of annulment, divorce and separation in civil unions, as the court does over marriages.
Reactions to the news of Hawaii's historic step came swiftly from the usual suspects:
Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry:  
“By again resoundingly passing a civil union bill that Governor Neil Abercrombie has promised to sign, Hawaii’s legislature acted to acknowledge the state’s loving and committed gay and lesbian couples and their families and to provide them a measure of protections under the law – protections of particular importance during these tough economic times.   This is a victory for all families, because it strengthens the lives of many couples and their loved ones while taking nothing away from anyone else, thereby strengthening the entire ohana, the entire community.  Freedom to Marry applauds Equality Hawaii for its leadership in securing needed protections for Hawaii’s families. 
“While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities, and protection of marriage itself.  States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding – providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning – have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.  Many of those states – Connecticut, New Hampshire, and even Vermont, which first created civil union – have since pushed past civil union to marriage, recognizing the inadequacy and unfairness of a separate and unequal status. 
“Loving and committed same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 12 countries on four continents – as well as in 5 states and the District of Columbia here at home – and the sky has not fallen and the sun continues to rise every morning.  As soon as the governor signs the final bill, Hawaii should move swiftly to finish the job by ending exclusion from marriage itself, allowing all committed couples to share in the same responsibilities, same respect, and same rules.”
Equality Hawaii and Human Rights Campaign 
“Today is a great day for the people of Hawaii,” said Alan Spector, co-chair for Equality Hawaii.  “The action taken by the House today sends a strong message that our state recognizes the importance of moving towards equality.  Providing equal rights to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is long overdue and we thank all those who have stood with us to make this day a reality.” 
After minor changes were made in the House, the bill now heads to back to the Senate for agreement on the amendments before heading to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his signature.  SB 232 SD1 passed the Hawaii Senate on January 28, by a 19-6 vote.  Except for some technical corrections and implementation amendments, the bill is identical to HB 444, the civil unions bill passed in 2010.  That bill passed the House and Senate with near supermajorities before Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed it.  No override vote was held. 
“The Human Rights Campaign congratulates the Hawaii House of Representatives for overwhelmingly supporting the equal dignity and respect of Hawaii’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.  “No child of a same-sex family should have to grow up with less protections or thinking their family is less legitimate or loving than others.” 
The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Hawaii have worked closely together since 2008 to build both public and legislative support for civil unions.  Through this joint effort, tens of thousands of phone calls, emails, postcards and handwritten letters have been sent to legislators urging them to approve this legislation. 
Mahalo, Hawaii!

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