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Hawaii Lesbian Couple Files Suit Seeking Marriage Equality

A Honolulu lesbian couple files a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii arguing that their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process were violated when they were refused a marriage license by the state’s health department.  In the suit, Natasha Jackson and Janin Kleid name Governor Neil Abercrombie and Loretta J. Fuddy, the director of Hawaii’s health department, as defendants.

In their complaint, the couple ask the district court to declare that Hawaii’s marriage laws violate their equal protection and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and seek an order prohibiting the state government from denying marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.  The couple’s suit is later joined by Gary Bradley, one of the first men in Hawaii to enter into a civil union, who is prevented by the Defense of Marriage Act from changing his partner’s immigration status through marriage.

Hawaii has a complicated history when it comes to marriage rights for same-sex couples.  In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in Baehr v. Miike (which began as Baehr v. Lewin) that the state’s decision not to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was discriminatory.  The case was sent back to the district court, but in 1994 the Hawaii legislature passed a law restricting marriage to heterosexual couples only.

In 1996, a trial judge, Kevin Chang, ruled against the new law and said the state could not refuse marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.  That same year, in response to the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited marriage to heterosexual couples in the eyes of the federal government.

In the 1998 election, Hawaii’s voters approved a constitutional amendment called Amendment 2 which read, “The legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”  A year later, in 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled that Amendment 2 provided a firm constitutional footing for the marriage law against which Judge Chang had ruled.  For that reason, the court reversed his decision.

In 2010, a civil unions bill passed both of the Hawaii legislature’s houses, but was vetoed by Governor Linda Lingle.  The following year, another civil unions bill passed the legislature, and was signed into law by the new governor, Neil Abercrombie.  The new law went into effect on January 1, 2012.

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