Two years after Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a law approving civil unions for couples in Hawaii, civil rights groups are mobilizing at the Legislature to make a push for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Proposals in the House and Senate would extend to same-sex couples the right to marry and receive all the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage as opposite-sex couples.
Other proposals would put the issue on the ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment, similar to the process in 1998, when voters overwhelmingly approved the nation's first "defense of marriage" amendment, giving the Legislature the authority to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The move was prompted by the state Supreme Court's 1993 ruling that struck down a ban on same-sex marriage.
Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage who introduced the amendment proposal in the Senate, said he believes a vote of the people would be the most demo¬cratic way to decide the issue.
Invoking President Barack Obama's Inauguration Day speech, in which he called for equal treatment of "our gay brothers and sisters," the Hawaii United for Marriage coalition is urging lawmakers to act without putting the issue to a vote.
"The freedom to choose the person with whom we commit to share our life is a basic human right," said Lois Perrin, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, a coalition partner. "Marriage protects and provides for families with security and benefits defined by law in ways that civil unions do not.
"Hawaii must stand with our president and recognize that now is the time to treat all our families with respect, dignity and equality."
Shin Inouye, a White House spokes¬man, said the president does not weigh in on all measures being considered by states.
"He believes all couples should be treated fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," Ino¬uye said in an email message. "As he has said, it is his personal view that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so."
The same-sex marriage bill does not change how marriage is defined by various religions, and it specifically protects the rights of clergy, churches and religious organizations that do not perform or recognize marriages for same-sex couples, Hawaii United for Marriage said.