Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Hawaii Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Hawaii became the 15th US state to achieve LGBT marriage equality as Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Wednesday.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports Abercrombie, a Democrat, called the newly-signed marriage equality bill part of Hawaii’s “legacy of aloha.”

“In Hawaii, we believe in fairness, justice and human equality,” the governor said Tuesday after the state senate approved the measure by a vote of 19-4. “Today, we celebrate our diversity defining us rather than dividing us.”

At Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony at Hawai’i Convention Center’s Liliu Theater, Abercrombie declared that the new law embodied the “epitome of the First Amendment in action.”

Same-sex couples will be able to legally wed as soon as December 2. The law contains a provision allowing churches and other faith-based organizations opposed to equality on religious grounds to deny goods, services and facilities to LGBT couples.

President Barack Obama congratulated his home state on its historic achievement.

“By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation,” the president said. “I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.”

LGBT advocates rejoiced at the news.

“After 20 years of work to win the state where it all started, the… victory today is especially sweet,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the national group Freedom to Marrytold the Advocate.

“The same legislature that in the 1990s passed the first anti-gay constitutional amendments now voted resoundingly for the freedom to marry,” Wolfson added. “Like the millions of Americans who have evolved to become the national majority for marriage, Hawaii’s leaders opened their hearts and changed their minds.”

But not everyone was thrilled that LGBT Hawaiians will be treated as equals going forward. Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott said he would attempt to obtain a restraining order to prevent the new law from taking effect. McDermott, who believes that homosexuality is a choice and that gay marriage is harmful to children, has filed a lawsuit claiming the legislature lacks the constitutional authority to alter the state’s definition of marriage. McDermott expressed his frustration at being targeted for opposing equal rights for LGBT individuals.

“It doesn’t matter what I say, I will be called a hater, bigot, homophobe and ignorant,” McDermott told MSNBC. He followed that by stating that he doesn’t believe homosexuality is “an immutable characteristic, like skin color.”

“It’s a behavior that one chooses,” he opined.

The struggle for LGBT marriage equality in Hawaii dates back to 1990, when two women applied for a marriage license. Their case went all the way to the state supreme court, which in 1993 ruled that prohibiting the couple from marrying violated their rights to equal protection.

That ruling in turn sparked widespread fear across the US that Hawaii could become the first state to legalize gay marriage, helping push Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman until the US Supreme Court struck down key portions of the law as unconstitutional earlier this year.

Fourteen other US states, plus the District of Columbia and a handful of Native American tribes, have legalized same-sex marriage. Illinois is poised to become the 16th state to achieve LGBT marriage equality. The state legislature has passed a legalization bill that is currently awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature. The Democrat has said he will sign the measure into law, but it is not clear exactly when he will do so.

Twenty-nine US states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

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