In another signal victory for the gay rights movement in the United States, the state legislature in Hawaii last night passed a law allowing same sex couples to marry. When it is signed into law by Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, this morning Hawaii will become the fifteenth state to allow gay marriage.
The passage of the law by the State Senate – it had already been approved by the lower chamber – was especially sweet because it is twenty years since the state Supreme Court ruled that barring same sex couples from tying the knot was unconstitutional. While the ruling created a backlash leading to the legislature to pass a law in 1994 blocking its implementation, it was the spark that ignited the national push towards acceptance of gay marriage.
The recent effort, while inflaming religious conservatives on the islands, was strongly supported by Gov. Abercrombie, a former member of the US Congress. He supported the law as a basic human right. However, its backers were also mindful of Hawaii’s lucrative hold on the wedding and honeymoon travel market.
The 19-4 vote in the Senate came at the culmination of a special legislative session called by Gov. Abercrombie solely to get the law passed. Its passage brought cheers from supporters wearing traditional leis crammed into the public gallery. Earlier debate however had seen loud protests outside the state Capitol by opponents of the change.
It brought a quick statement of congratulations from President Barack Obama, who last year professed having “evolved” to becoming a supporter of gay marriage. “Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger,” the president, who spent most of his childhood on the islands, said. “By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.”
Massachusetts was the first state to put gay marriage on its books in 2003. One year ago, it had been recognised by six states and the District of Columbia. In just twelve months, the roster has more than doubled. Illinois voted last month to approve it and when that law is signed by its governor shortly, it will be the sixteenth state in the club.
All this is coming in the year when the US Supreme Court, while stopping short of making gay marriage a national reality, overturned the Defence of Marriage Act thus extending federal marriage benefits to same sex couples married in states that allow it. The Court also set the stage for California to resume same sex marriages.
“This is another chapter in an exciting string of victories this year,” Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said last night. “But more than that, it’s proof that hard work, long-term dedication, and the support of individuals from around the country …can make the difference when it comes to securing basic rights for loving couples.”
The Hawaii law passed with a few exemptions aimed at appeasing the religious community, underlining that pastors and priests will have no obligation to preside over gay marriages in Hawaii if doing so would conflict with their faiths. “This is about government recognizing two individuals - government, not churches," Democratic state Senator Will Espero, a supporter, said during the final floor debate.
After Gov. Abercrombie signs the bill into law in a ceremony at the state house in Honolulu today, preparations will be made to allow for the first same sex marriages to take place from 2 December.