Hawaii was poised to become the 15th state to allow same-sex couples to marry after the state Senate on Tuesday sent legislation to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s desk.
After a same-sex marriage bill hit legislative roadblocks earlier this year, and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, Abercrombie called the legislature back into special session to pass a compromise measure. The new version of the bill includes protections for religious officials who object to same-sex marriage.
Abercrombie has said he will sign the measure.
Legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii carries special significance to gay rights advocates. Hawaii voters helped kick off the drive to prohibit same-sex unions in the 1990s, approving a state constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to define marriage as between a man and a woman. In subsequent years, dozens of states passed similar measures banning same-sex unions.
But Hawaii partially reversed itself in 2011 by legalizing same-sex civil unions. Abercrombie said this year that the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex partners to receive federal benefits made it necessary for the legislature to fully reverse itself.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives, where an earlier version hit a snag, after 56 hours of public testimony over five days last week. The House approved the bill by a vote of 30 to 19. The compromise bill, which the Senate approved 19 to 4, would allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses as early as Dec. 2.
Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott said in a letter to Abercrombie on Friday he would file a request for a temporary restraining order if the bill passed, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported Tuesday. A state judge has said he would hear the case if the bill passed.
Hawaii is giving same-sex marriage proponents their second big win in two weeks. Illinois lawmakers passed a same-sex marriage bill Nov. 5, and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said in a statement he would sign it at a public ceremony Nov. 20. Illinois same-sex couples will be allowed to wed when the law takes effect on July 1, a Quinn spokesman said.
But after Illinois and Hawaii, gay-rights advocates have few legislative opportunities to legalize same-sex marriage. The vast majority of Democratic-run states already allow the unions. In another, Oregon, advocates are pushing an initiative that is likely to qualify for next year’s ballot.
The advocates’ strategy is likely to pivot to the courts. Last month, the New Mexico Supreme Court began hearing a same-sex marriage case after several county clerks began unilaterally issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. County clerks across the state asked the court to provide guidance on whether such unions were allowed under state law, which doesn’t use gender-specific terms to define marriage.
Couples in at least a dozen other states have brought lawsuits aimed at getting their unions recognized. Some of the suits seek to overturn state bans on same-sex marriage, while others seek to force states to recognize unions performed legally in other states. A third category seeks to win state recognition of a relationship for some of the less romantic aspects of marriage — such as divorce.