HONOLULU — Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law Hawaii’s marriage equality bill, Senate Bill 1, Tuesday morning at the Hawaii Convention Center’s Liliu Theatre. The signing was before an invite-only crowd of several hundred people and was streamed on the governor’s website and Hawaii’s public access channel ‘Ōlelo.
The signing ceremony was opened with a traditional Native Hawaiian oli (chant) by Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, and was followed by a musical performance by Willie K and Amy Hanaiali’i singing a medley of “Imagine” and “Over the Rainbow,” which brought many in the audience to tears.
Attorney General David Louie said that for almost 20 years, justice delayed has been justice denied for our gay brothers and sisters. “But no longer.” He thanked all of the legislatures for their hard work and the governor for calling the special session.
Senator Clayton Hee approached the podium next, where he was overcome with emotion and joked he needed to use his tie to wipe his tears. He thanked his fellow lawmakers for “their courage” and the governor for his “risk-taking leadership.”
He was followed by Representative Chris Lee who was also overcome by emotion and said some people had criticized the timing of the special session, but it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.
The passage of the bill is profound and historic, said Gov. Abercrombie, comparing it to the late Representative Patsy Mink’s work for equality for women in education and sports with Title IX.
He read the Hawaii State Constitution’s definition of the aloha spirit, saying it signified the moment. “We have aloha and the aloha spirit in our laws, in our constitution,” Gov. Abercrombie said. “Aloha” means kindness, tenderness, humility, patience, and unity, the governor said.
The governor’s signature comes at the end of a special session on marriage equality that began on Oct. 28 and was called by Gov. Abercrombie on Sept. 9, after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Friday, Nov. 8, the full House passed 30 to 19 an amended version of the bill that expanded religious exemptions, allowing “for-profit” organizations to refuse same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Senate passed the bill 19 to 4 on Tuesday after a much briefer session than the House’s.
Hawaii had an early role in the marriage equality movement in the United States more than two decades ago with Baehr v. Lewin, which argued for same-sex couples to have marriage rights.
In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled it was discriminatory to deny marriage rights, and this decision was eventually cited on the first page of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on U.S. v. Windsor, which overturned DOMA.
Despite the progress made on marriage equality, the Baehr case was ruled moot after Hawaii voters approved a 1998 constitutional amendment that gave power to the legislature to limit marriage to between a man and a woman.
Hawaii’s marriage equality movement has now come full circle, as the governor signed Senate Bill 1 with a koa pen that he said would be given to former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson, who wrote the landmark 1993 decision to Baehr v. Lewin on marriage equality.