Members of Hawaii Island’s gay and lesbian community said Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay marriage mark important milestones in a fight that they think is still far from over.
The landmark decisions helped to remove some barriers of same-sex unions, but where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples live in the country still carries weight over how they are treated under the law, they said.
Hawaii, which just this year began to recognize civil union partnerships between same-sex partners, still does not allow gay couples to enter into marriage.
Hawaii’s new civil unions law effectively bestows the same rights and privileges covered by marriage upon same-sex partners, but members of the LGBT community say that using the word “marriage” makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the issue of equality.
“I probably will not be satisfied until we have full marriage equality, here in Hawaii,” said Hilo resident Danny Robinson, a longtime gay rights activist. “We’re still in a battle.”
Robinson and his partner, Allen Castro, were disappointed this year when legislators failed to legalize gay marriage in Hawaii.
“We tried very hard during the last session to have marriage equality passed, but it never got out of committee,” Robinson said. “We’re hoping next year it will catch on. … I got the impression last year that a lot of legislators were waiting to see what would happen in the Supreme Court.”
Robinson added that, in the meantime, he and Castro have discussed flying to California to become legally married, which would then be recognized in Hawaii, but they maintain the law shouldn’t benefit only those who are able to afford a plane ticket, such as themselves.
“I feel bad for some couples,” Castro said. “In Hawaii, it’s a big stretch to go to California to get married. Yet someone in Oregon could get $20 in gas and go get married. There’s a disparity between the states right now, and I think it’s setting us up for another (Supreme Court) case down the road.”
Hilo resident Natasha Johns says she, too, sees more work ahead.
As an organizer of this year’s inaugural Hawaii Island Pride Parade and Festival and a participant in a civil union with her same-sex partner of 13 years, Johns likened Wednesday’s decisions to her generation’s “Brown v. The Board of Education or Roe v. Wade.”
“It’s a great day. I found out by my mom calling me at 6 in the morning. Personally, for me, this is about what this means for the future, and for the next generation. This gets us closer to being the nation we were always intended to be,” she said. “Mainly, it opens the door for the states to take on marriage, including Hawaii.”
Johns added that state legislators always appear to be afraid to take a stand on marriage equality during an election year during the recently completed session. However, “attitudes toward gay and lesbian marriage and rights are changing, and the states will need to follow suit,” she said.
In a flurry of press releases issued throughout the day Wednesday, various Hawaii politicians proclaimed their support for the court’s rulings, and pushed for the state to pursue legalizing same-sex marriage here.
“Although the Supreme Court did not directly require that same-sex couples in other states be allowed to marry, I am encouraged by the fact that language in the Windsor ruling supports my position in the Hawaii lawsuit, which is currently pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that lawsuit, I argue the Constitution’s equal protection clause requires same-sex marriage in all states, including Hawaii,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a release.
“I believe my position to support a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Hawaii and elsewhere was given a substantial boost by today’s Supreme Court rulings. I will continue to work to assure justice and equality for all.”
A release from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, added that “we still have work to do.”
“It is time for Hawaii to join that growing chorus of voices across our nation in proclaiming that we will not tolerate discrimination in marriage. I am proud to have helped pass Hawaii’s civil unions law for the first time, which offered couples equal rights under state law. That was the best we could do at the time, but now that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages, our state should amend its laws, end discrimination in marriage, and make marriage equality in Hawaii a reality. They can count on my support,” she said.
While lawmakers failed to move on marriage equality this year, they did succeed in approving a resolution calling for the creation of a task force to study marriage equality, pointed out members of Hawaii United For Marriage, a statewide coalition pushing for marriage equality.
“We are excited to see the task force get to work examining how same-sex couples in Hawaii would now benefit from the protections of marriage if the Legislature takes action in 2014,” said Lois Perrin, the organization’s legal director.
“Twelve states and the District of Columbia have already approved marriage equality. With today’s ruling, we look forward to continuing the discussion of ending discrimination and ensuring that all families in Hawaii — gay or straight — will receive equal treatment under the law.”