Same-sex marriages & civil unions in Hawaii
2009: Civil unions bill launched
Status of loving, committed same-sex relationships in Hawaii during early 2009:
Hawaii has a "reciprocal benefits" law that grants certain specified rights
to registered couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex. Included are
inheritance and property rights, the ability to sue for wrongful death, and
hospital visitation privileges. However, there are hundreds of state benefits,
rights and obligations automatically given to opposite-sex marriage couples that
are not extended to registered same-sex couples. Health care, spousal leave, and
access to family court are not covered.
Equality Hawaii, an agency supporting the creation of civil unions,
"HB444 would grant couples in a Civil Union all the right,
responsibilities, and protections of a married couple, including that precious,
all-important right of legal kinship, complete with access to Family Court.
Currently Hawaii only has this weird half-arrangement called Reciprocal
Beneficiaries, into which any two adults, related or not, can enter. An RB is a
statement of household interdependence that in theory carries a few rights such
as hospital visitation, inheritance, life insurance, and joint tenancy in
entirety, which basically means that a surviving RB partner inherits an owned
property without having to dissolve it and re-buy it, and can stay in a rental
property whether his or her name was on the lease or not."
"It's not mandated by law for RBs to be entitled to
health-care coverage under a family plan, as it is for spouses. And if they are
a gay or unrelated adult couple, RBs have no access to family courts. Because no
one really knows what a Reciprocal Beneficiary is, and there is no
easily-accessible enumerated list of rights, having those rights in times of
crisis is undeniably difficult. To say that RBs are sufficient protections is an
unfunny joke. RBs, like DPs in Wisconsin, don't carry a right of kinship, and
thus they are dreadfully inadequate in their protections, and are therefore
not substantially similar to marriage." 5
There are also over 1,050 federal benefits and rights that opposite-sex
married couples automatically receive, but that couples registered under the
reciprocal benefits law are excluded from. Even if a system of civil unions is
created, it will bring to them only the state benefits that
married couples receive. Federal benefits are currently
excluded because of the federal DOMA act.
Impact HB 444 would have on an actual couple:
KITV-4, a Hawaii'an television station, broadcast a short story about the
bill on 2010-JAN-14. The transcript reads, in part:
Voiceover: Kimberly Allen and Theresa Gonzales have
been together eleven years.
Kimberly Allen: We take care of each other like we're
married, but, I think that a lot of the laws that are here now make it a
little more difficult for us.
Voiceover: Gonzales is battling stage IV cancer, Kim at her side every day, but
Gonzales says even a blood relative she's never met could have more say
over her care.
Theresa Gonzales: They could make all the decisions and leave her out
because we have no rights, no legal rights. And that is wrong, that is
Fawcett on Capitol grounds: The State Legislature appears ready to give
gay partners the same legal rights as heterosexual partners. State
Senators say they expect to approve the Civil Unions bill in the first
two weeks of this session that begins January 20th. Then it goes
to the House for its consideration.
The Senate approved HB 444 on 2010-JAN-22.
2009-JAN: Proposed civil union bill HB 444:
House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, (D-33rd), sponsored a bill to make civil unions
available to loving, committed same-sex couples. He referred to previous
unsuccessful attempts to legalize same-sex marriages, saying:
"I think it's just time. ... I think for the advocates that support civil
unions, clearly, for a lot of them, it's a compromise. In the past, it was all
or nothing. And this year, it has changed a lot, and I think that has helped
them. I think they are a little bit more aware of the political process now."
The bill would:
|Allow certain couples to obtain a civil union license. Both must be:|
|Of the same sex, and |
|18 years of age or older, |
|Not a partner in another civil union or marriage,|
|Not closely related to each other.
|Authorize judges, retired judges, and clergypersons to perform unions.
|Potential judges or clergy who fail or refuse to solemnize a civil union
are protected from any fines or other penalties.|
|The couple must first obtain a civil union license from the Department of
|The parners "shall have all the same rights, benefits, protections, and
responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative
rules, court decisions, the common law, or any other source of civil law, as
are granted to spouses in a marriage..."
|They would obtain state benefits only. They would receive none of the
approximately 1,050 federal benefits, protections, and responsibilities given
to opposite-sex married couples.|
|Recognize marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships that have been validly performed in other jurisdictions
as equivalent to a civil union.
||Regard same-sex marriages performed elsewhere as civil unions in Hawaii.
|Come into effect on 2010-JAN-01. 2|
If the bill becomes law, Hawaii would become the fourth state after New
Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont to provide civil unions
for its citizens.
There are 51 members in the House. As of 2009-JAN-24, 32 members (63%) had
signed the bill. Included were state House Speaker Calvin Say, (D-20th), and
state Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, (D-41st), the chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee. By FEB-05, support had risen to 42 members (82%). 3
Some commentators have anticipated future resistance from the Senate Judiciary
and Government Operations Committee.
|Two senators on the committee are opposed to civil unions. State Senator
Mike Gabbard, (D-19th) said: "The people of Hawai'i ... decided this issue 10
or 11 years ago, when 70 percent of the people voted against same-sex
marriage. And, to me, civil unions is [sic] same-sex marriage with a different
|Two senators, both Democrats, are known to favor civil unions.
|One senator, Robert Bunda, (D-22nd) opposed same-sex marriage in the past
but said he will keep an open mind on civil unions. He said:
"For me, I have to read and digest what's in the bill before I actually
make a decision. I've been told I'm the swing vote, I don't know for sure. If
I am, my priority is to make sure that I understand fully what's before us."
Governor Linda Lingle (R) has not yet revealed her position on the measure.
She has veto power over any bill passed by the House and Senate. Her veto would
require a 2/3rds vote by both the House and Senate to overturn.
Support for the bill:
The Family Equality Coalition was formed after the
failure of a civil unions bill in 2007. Alan Spector,
a social worker and co-chair of the coalition said that their long-term goal
remains same-sex marriage. However, obtaining civil unions would be a
significant step forward.
The coalition has obtained support from labor unions, the inter-faith community, social service groups,
the university community, civil rights groups, etc. Their membership has risen from 40 members in
2008-JUN to 1,300 members by early 2009-FEB.
Opposition to the bill:
Hawaii Family Forum is one group that opposes the bill. Eva Andrade, their Director of Communications,
also seems to treat civil unions and same-sex marriage as identical. She
"Both Hawaii Family Forum and the Roman Catholic Church in the Hawaii [sic]
support fixing Hawaii's reciprocal beneficiary law to provide benefits to
those in need in a way that is not based on sex partner status;
however, some legislators (and supporters of civil unions) are not interested
in fixing reciprocal beneficiaries. They prefer to establish civil unions."
"We urge you to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee and your
own legislators as soon as possible to urge them to oppose civil unions (HB
444) and remind them that the people of Hawaii have spoken overwhelmingly
against same-sex marriage."
"Without significant involvement from the grassroots, civil unions may well
become law. Rest assured, proponents will not stop at civil unions. The battle
over traditional marriage will either be fought here and now, or it will be
fought later. Once civil unions become law, it will be very hard to overturn
it [sic]. " 4
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Derrick DePledge, "Hawaii civil unions backed by a majority in
32 of 51 House members sign on to measure that would legalize partnership," The
Honolulu Advertiser, 2009-JAN-24, at:
Unions Take Center Stage at Hawaii State Capitol.
Same Sex Marriage Right Around the Corner."
Keori, "Equality Hawaii Announces 2010 Push For Civil Unions
Bill, HB444," Pam's House Blend, 2010-JAN-16, at:
This essay is for general information only. Portions lack the
precision of the legal language of HB 444. Do not make any personal decisions
based on material on this web site.
Copyright © 2009 & 2010 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2009-FEB-08
Latest update and review: 2010-JUN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson