Civil Unions process starts anew in Hawaii

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Ben in Oakland

January 25th, 2011

I didn’t read the originals, so I only have your comments to go by.

I agree, there is sometihng very off-putting about those particular provisions. But I actually see them as a positive in the long run

By letting us know clearly that we just aren’t as good as heteros, they are also accomplishing:

1) acknolwedging that this is being done to acknowledge the moral and legal legitimacy of our demand to be treated equally before the law, and to end this stupid, bigoted prejudice.

2) this may well appease a certain segment of the voters whose basis for voting on a repeal referendum would be to reinforce their wholly imaginary moral and social superiority.

3) They wil have to justify at some point how giving or not gay people any rights protects anyone’s marriage. And, when nothing changes in hawaii concerning the status of hetero marriages, that protect marriage crap is going to look pretty silly.

As for letting certain civil servants out of their responsibilities;

I don’t know this for a certainty, but I believe that such civil “servants” would be low in number, and they would be subject to some ostracism from their peers for refusing to do their jobs. It owuld do them some good, and defuse their victimization whining.

It owuld be better if the prejudice did not have to be kowtowed to, but at the same time, at lreast we’re getting ito ut there that prejudice is am jaor part of this whole brouhaha.

Ben in Oakland

January 25th, 2011

sorry for all the typos. I forgot my spell check before posting. The phone rang.

Mihangel apYrs

January 25th, 2011

Ben in Oakland
“and the dog ate my homework….”

A comment concerning civil service: you don’t get to pick and choose what you do. You serve the country, which in public-facing jobs means servong them without favour or prejudice. If you can’t do that when the laws etc change through constitutional means you resign, no ifs, buts, or equivocation.


January 25th, 2011

@Ben in Oakland

I really LIKE the new word “acknolwedging”

Ben in Oakland

January 25th, 2011

I abosultely agree with you, Mihangel. If it gets it passed, and reduces the talking points of the opposition, i frankly don’t care.

At the same time, I believe that it does underline the basic bigotry of the opposition, and that this iwll become apparent as time goes on for precisely the reaosns you say.


January 26th, 2011

I understand there’s a lot of fundamentalist pushback against gay unions in Hawaii, but is there no chance of passing full equality there? Are they trying to do it in steps like Washington state? It would seem to me the overwhelmingly Dem legislature and pro-equality governor could make it a reality.

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