The state legislature has voted to grant same-sex couples the same benefits and rights as married couples under the title “civil union.” Apparently fearing claims of discrimination, which have not succeeded elsewhere, the state legislature also made civil unions available to opposite-sex couples. It’s not known whether the governor will sign the bill.
Hawaii touched off the national debate on same-sex marriage when its supreme court declared in 1993 that excluding gay couples from marriage violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause unless the state had a “compelling” reason for doing so. Anxiety that Hawaiian same-sex marriages would spread to other states led to passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. The state’s voters then amended the state constitution to provide that the legislature could choose to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. In 1997, the legislature chose to grant couples very limited rights if they register as “reciprocal beneficiaries.” Now it has decided that this limited set of rights is insufficient.