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A clear message to the world that Hawaii welcomes everyone: gay or straight

Hawaii: 7th US State to end selective tourist discrimination

Linda Hohnholz, eTN, Haleiwa, HI  Feb 24, 2011

The Hawai`i Tourism Association (HiTA) praises Hawai`i Governor Neil Abercrombie for signing the Civil Union bill today in Honolulu. As the Governor said: "E Komo Mai: It means all are welcome. This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome; that everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise."

Civil Unions allow any two people regardless of gender or sexual orientation to share the same responsibilities and rights shared of married couples.

Hawai`i is the 7th state in America to allow Civil Unions.

HiTA president Juergen T. Steinmetz said: ‚ÄúCivil Unions are especially important to same-sex couples, and this sends a clear message to the world that Hawai`i welcomes everyone - gay or straight - to visit our beautiful state.‚ÄĚ

Steinmetz hopes this will encourage businesses in Hawai`i to invest in gay-friendly venues and encourage gay travelers from around the globe to select Hawai`i as their vacation destination. Hawai`i is not only for those wanting to come to Hawai`i to enter a Civil Union, it is for any traveler to understand that Hawai`i is a melting pot of races and beliefs ‚Äď everyone is welcome to visit, and everyone will have the time of their life enjoying the state‚Äôs beaches, mountains, restaurants, bars, night clubs, shopping, and cultural venues. Aloha is tolerance, and this is a good day for the Aloha State.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i (ACLU) applaud Hawai`i Governor Neil Abercrombie's signing of SB232, which establishes civil unions for same-sex and different-sex couples in Hawai`i. The Hawai`i Senate approved the bill in an 18-5 vote on February 16. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2012.

Civil Unions will provide a full range of state law protections and duties to unmarried couples - gay and heterosexual alike - such as access to family court to resolve disputes in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as appropriate, and other vital family protections. The new law will also honor same-sex couples' marriages, civil unions, and broad domestic partnerships from other states and countries.

"It's wonderful to see so much hard work by so many in the Legislature and the community finally pay off," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "Today marks a big step toward full equality for lesbian and gay people in the Aloha State. Hawai`i joins a growing list of states and countries on the right side of history - those that recognize the common humanity of all people and know all families are strengthened when the law protects everyone. Governor Abercrombie, state lawmakers, and many thousands of Hawai`i residents pulling together have moved this state significantly closer to civic equality by insisting that every family at least have access to complete rights and responsibilities, even if not to the equal status of marriage. We celebrate this key accomplishment and look forward to turning from litigation to helping with implementation of this new law."

Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in July, 2010 after then-Governor Linda Lingle vetoed HB444, the previous civil unions bill. By providing the remedy sought by the lawsuit, SB232 eliminates the need to continue with that case.

"We're delighted with the Senate's vote ‚ÄĒ this bill will help thousands of families. And when Governor Abercrombie adds his signature, it will send a strong message that the State of Hawai`i is committed to protecting all Hawai`i's families," said Laurie Temple, Staff Attorney with the ACLU.

"We're extraordinarily grateful to the tens of thousands of community members and organizations who have testified in support of civil unions over the years and have encouraged their representatives, senators, and the Governor to enact it into law. All those hours spent waving signs and making phone calls have brought us one big step closer to equality."

Hawai`i's constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done. This means same-sex couples cannot ask Hawai`i's courts to require full equality through marriage, but can call upon the legislature to take this essential step in the future. In the meantime, Civil Unions will provide much-needed protection for couples and their families. But because Civil Unions are a lesser status than civil marriage, they cannot satisfy the government's constitutional duty to treat everyone as equals under the law and to abolish class distinctions that unjustly demean and invite private discrimination against vulnerable minority groups.

After SB232's passage, five states (HI, CT, IA, MA, NH, and VT) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Six states (CA, IL, NV, NJ, OR. and WA) offer broad state-law protection through civil union or registered domestic partnership; Hawai`i will make it seven. Five more states (CO, MD, ME, and WI) offer more limited protections through a non-marriage status (passage of SB232 will not change Hawai`i's reciprocal beneficiaries law). Others (including at least MD, and NY, and probably NM, and, for some purposes, RI) respect marriages that same-sex couples entered into in other states. Consequently, based on population estimates from the 2010 US Census, as of February 2011, more than 40% of the United States population resides in a jurisdiction offering same-sex couples at least some form of state-level legal protection.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state.

Equality Hawai`i, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization, today congratulated Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the Hawai`i legislature and the people of Hawai`i for enacting civil unions into law. The legislation provides that the equal rights and responsibilities of married couples in Hawai`i be afforded to thousands of non-married couples in the state - including same-sex couples. The law takes effect January 1, 2012.

"Today is a truly momentous day in Hawai`i and a great step forward in our struggle towards full equality," said Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawai`i. "After nearly two decades of debate and sometimes hostile rhetoric, the people of Hawai`i have spoken loud and clear, and their words ring true with hope and optimism. Equality Hawai`i thanks Gov. Abercrombie, the legislature, Human Rights Campaign, and all those who have joined this fight for equal rights during the last two decades."

"I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawai`i. I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawai`i."

The struggle for equal relationship recognition for same-sex couples began in Hawai`i in 1993 when the Hawai`i Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Baehr v. Lewin, which found a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples. In 1998, a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the authority to define marriage was approved by a public vote, and the legislature subsequently enacted a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Since then, attitudes towards same-sex relationship recognition in Hawai`i and around the country have changed. Today, a vast majority of Hawai`i residents support Civil Unions and a majority support marriage equality.

"Neil Abercrombie has been a stalwart advocate and friend of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community for decades," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Today he fulfills a major campaign promise to lay the issue of civil unions to rest and finally provide equal rights and responsibilities to thousands of same-sex families in the Aloha State. The Human Rights Campaign thanks Equality Hawai`i and other coalition partners, as well as our friends in the legislature for continuing to fight for what is right and just."

"Equality is not simply an issue to be debated and voted on, it is an idea that all people are created equal no matter who they are," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, House Majority Leader. "For too long, Hawai`i same-sex families have languished as second-class citizens, denied equal civil rights and treatment under the law. Today, we bring the concepts of ohana and aloha back to the people of this great state. I thank Gov. Abercrombie, my colleagues in the legislature, Equality Hawai`i, and the Human Rights Campaign for their dedication to this cause and look forward to working with all advocates for equality in the future."

The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Hawai`i have worked closely together since 2008 to build both public and legislative support for civil unions. Through this joint effort, tens of thousands of phone calls, emails, postcards, and handwritten letters have been sent to legislators, urging them to approve this legislation."

Hawaii: 7th US State to end selective tourist discrimination
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signs Senate Bill 232 which makes civil unions legal in Hawaii

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