Hawaiian Governor Neil Abercrombie [official website] on Wednesday signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage [text, PDF]. The new law will take effect December 2 and will make Hawaii the fifteenth US state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013 seeks to ensure that "same-sex couples are able to take full advantage of federal rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities granted to married opposite sex couples," while also ensuring that religious freedoms are protected by not requiring any officer of any religious denomination to solemnize any marriage that is against their religious beliefs. In a press release [text] Abercrombie said:
The legalization of marriage for same-sex couples is part of the long history of civil rights movements in the United States. Many people have worked tireless to make this day possible. This significant piece of legislation is a clear example of people exercising courage, determination and patient perseverance. The result advances equity in marriage and honors all First Amendment religious imperatives.Hawaii started the same-sex marriage discussion nationally in 1993 with the state's Supreme Court decision in Baehr v. Lewin [opinion, PDF].
The legalization of same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has proven to be a divisive issue in Hawaii. On Tuesday the Hawaii Senate [official website] passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage by a vote of 19-4. Last week a Hawaiian judge 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. In 2011 Abercrombie signed [JURIST report] signed into law a bill 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 [official website], 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."