Hawaii May Pass Marriage Equality Bill This Fall

Twenty years ago, Hawaii was the place where marriage equality first emerged as a real possibility. Now it looks like the state may finally complete its wedding march. Democrats in the state legislature are meeting this week to determine if they have the votes to pass a marriage equality bill. Assuming that they do — and they represent the overwhelming majority in both houses — Gov. Neil Abercrombie will call a special session of the legislature this fall to pass the measure. Abercrombie told party members that the special session was “very likely” to happen.

“I think we can put together something that can achieve a solid majority, that will give us the opportunity to establish marriage equity in the state of Hawaii commensurate with the recent Supreme Court decisions, and will satisfy and resolve the issues that are presently before the appeals court on the mainland,” Abercrombie said.

In the meantime, proponents of marriage equality are building the support they need for success. The state’s two Senators and two Representatives issued a letter calling for marriage equality, and a group of two dozen religious leaders has also announced their backing for a marriage bill. Hawaii is one of four states that marriage supporters have targeted for passage of marriage equality laws by 2014.

It’s been a long journey for marriage equality in the Aloha State. In 1991, three couples sued Hawaii, claiming that their rights under the state constitution had been violated. A plurality of the state Supreme Court ultimately agreed that the state couldn’t withhold marriage licenses from them. The religious right ginned up its machinery, and a constitutional amendment was passed in 1998, making the case moot. At the beginning of 2012, the state formally recognized civil unions, in a bit of belated catch up. Passage of a marriage equality measure would complete the circle for the state and make it the fourteenth to legalize same-sex marriages.