Civil Unions process starts anew in Hawaii
January 25th, 2011
Last year the legislature in Hawaii passed a civil unions bill with large majorities. Governor Linda Lingle (R) vetoed that bill at the last possible moment because she felt it treated gay couples too close to equal with heterosexual couples.
And while opposition to civil unions was a part of the campaign of both his primary and general election opponents, newly elected Governor Neil Abercrombie has consistently supported the idea. In this new climate, it is expected that civil unions will soon become law in the Aloha State.
There are two versions of civil unions presented, SB 232 which is identical to last year’s bill that Lingle vetoed (with an updated effective date) and SB 231 was crafted by the Governor’s staff to address concerns that some had with last year’s bill.
SB 232 grants partners in civil unions “all the same rights, venefits, protections, and responsibilities under law” as spouses. It requires a license and solemnization by a judge or clergy member, allowing either a religious or secular event. Those authorized to solemnize marriages are specifically protected from punishment if they decline to solemnize civil unions.
SB 231 is much wordier, clarifying wording about the minutia of the process (for example, each applicant for a civil union must be given a pamphlet about the “risks of infection with rubella during pregnancy”) and the revision of various code. Much of this seems administrative and could more easily be accomplished by simply requiring that the procedures for marriage and civil unions be the same and avoid the duplicative wording and the risk of future complexity from changes to one that fails to address the other. But perhaps legal scholars may disagree.
It also contains a preamble which is more of a political treatise than a policy law, and makes much ado about its “protection of marriage.” The message, which seems to be designed to assure heterosexuals that they would still be privileged in the eyes of the state, if offputting.
Also, amidst the wording, I noted an odd thing: agents for civil unions licenses are separately appointed from those for marriage licenses. No doubt this was to “protect” public employees who don’t wish to serve all of the public, but it reinforces the “you aren’t the same” message by having two separate lines at the courthouse. It is not entirely clear if this distinction is present in 232.
However, either bill is acceptable in that it accomplishes the goal of equal rights if not equal recognition and will grant much-needed protections and responsibilities for Hawaiian same-sex couples.
And today the process of enacting civil unions has begun. SB 232 will be heard today by the Senate Judiciary Committee (Star Adviser)
Less than three months after voters backed most candidates that support civil unions, lawmakers tomorrow begin the process of vetting another bill, with expectations high among those who hope to have the bill passed.
“We feel very optimistic, given how thorough civil unions has been debated in Hawaii the past few years and given that we already passed the bill,” said Alan Specter, co-chairman of Equality Hawaii. [Today's] hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee marks the third straight year in which lawmakers have taken up the issue that would grant same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.
Senate Bill 232 is substantively the same as House Bill 444, Senate Draft 1, passed by the Legislature last year and vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. The bill only changes the effective date to Jan. 1, 2012.