A Hawaii Circuit Court judge on Thursday upheld the state's recently enacted same-sex marriage law [text, PDF] despite a challenge from opponents who argue the state's Constitution [text] prohibits it. The new law, which will take effect December 2 and make Hawaii the fifteenth US state to legalize same-sex marriage, was signed [JURIST report] by Hawaiian Governor Neil Abercrombie [official website] on Wednesday. After hearing oral arguments from both sides, Judge Karl Sakamoto refused to enjoin the law's implementation on grounds that the legislature had the right to pass the law. State Representative Bob McDermott [official profile] led the effort to block the law's enactment, arguing [AP report] that it conflicts with a constitutional amendment [text] passed by voters in 1998 that gave the state legislature the power to restrict marriages to those between opposite-sex couples. Sakamoto found that the amendment's wording did not restrict the ability of the legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, despite arguments that voters found its language unclear.
The legalization of same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has proven to be divisive issue in Hawaii. Last week Sakamoto denied a request [JURIST report] for a temporary restraining order against lawmakers to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Last month the Hawaii Senate approved a measure [JURIST report] to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Governor Neil Abercrombie signed [JURIST report] the same-sex civil unions bill into law in 2011, legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state. This legislation went into effect in January 2012 after being approved by the state's senate in an 18-5 vote. A similar bill was vetoed[JURIST report] in 2010 by former governor Linda Lingle, who cited concerns that the bill was "essentially marriage by another name" and said that the issue should be decided directly by the people of Hawaii. Following the signing of the same-sex civil unions bill in 2011, a lesbian couple filed suit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, challenging the state's denial of same-sex marriage and claiming that they were being denied a "fundamental right." Although the court denied [JURIST report] the state law challenge in 2012, Abercrombie supported the plaintiffs' claims, publicly stating that he disagreed with the decision and that "[t]o refuse individuals the right to marry on the basis of sexual orientation or gender is discrimination in light of our civil union law."