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For week ended December 12, 1999 Posted 18 Dec 1999

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LDS Church-supported Gay Marriage Battle in Hawaii Ends (Gays fight may turn to rights and benefits)

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Church-supported Gay Marriage Battle in Hawaii Ends (Gays fight may turn to rights and benefits)
Honolulu HI Star-Bulletin 10Dec99 N1
By Debra Barayuga: Star-Bulletin

HONOLULU, HAWAII -- The battle in Hawaii over same-sex marriage ended Thursday as the Hawaii state Supreme Court ruled in the case that started the same sex marriage battle. The court ruled that the case was moot because voters had amended the state constitution last November to prohibit same-sex marriage. But the Court also ruled that same-sex couples were still entitled to the same benefits as married couples.

Daniel Foley, attorney for the couples seeking marriage, saw this as a silver lining in the decision, "The way I read the opinion is that same-sex couples now are entitled to all the rights and benefits of married couples without the license, and if the Legislature doesn't extend it to them, the state will be litigating into the next millennium."

The case started in 1990, when three same-sex couples tried to obtain marriage licenses in the state and were turned down. They then sued the state, and won a 1993 ruling from the state Supreme Court that said same-sex couples had a constitutional right under Hawaii's constitution to marriage, saying that the constitution's equal protection clause unless the state can show a compelling reason for banning these unions.

The couples' victory, which equally surprised both gay activists and those opposed to same-sex marriage, led to quick action by the LDS Church as well as others. The state of Utah was the first state to pass a law refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and 30 states have since passed similar laws. The so-called Knight initiative in California would have the same effect. Gay activists say these laws may violate the U.S. Constitution's requirement that states recognize each other's laws.

The LDS Church also asked the court to allow it to intervene in the case, which was still open while the state tried to show a compelling reason for banning same-sex unions, saying that the state would not represent its position adequately. But in early 1996, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the Church could not join the lawsuit.

The battle then moved to the voters, as those opposed to same-sex marriage drafted an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a women. The LDS Church again participated, donating late in the campaign $600,000 of the $2.2 million given to the effort, effectively swamping the $1.4 million spent by gay activists and helping to pass the measure.

Now, a year later the Supreme Court says that the amendment effectively trumped its 1993 decision, and prohibited same-sex marriage in Hawaii. But the court did not entirely reverse its 1993 position, keeping its ruling that gay couples are due equal protection under the law. Activists say this means that gay couples are still entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

Some politicians in Hawaii were not surprised by the announcement. State Senator Matt Matsunaga said, "We fully expected that the court would rule that the constitutional amendment that we passed was effective." But Matsunaga isn't sure about the status of benefits for the couples, "We had attempted to address the court's equal rights arguments with the passage of our reciprocal rights bill. We are unsure of the effectiveness of the reciprocal beneficiaries rule because the court was silent on the rule."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information