Lambda Legal and ACLU Conclude Lawsuit Seeking Civil Unions

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"Governor Abercrombie removed the need for the lawsuit with the stroke of a pen—approving the Legislature's diligent work and giving thousands of Hawai`i families badly needed protection."
March 31, 2011
Jennifer C. Pizer

"I can't think of many occasions when we've been more delighted to dismiss a lawsuit than this."

(Honolulu, March 31, 2011)—Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i (ACLU) and Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing (AHFI) today announced they have dismissed their lawsuit against the state, following Governor Neil Abercrombie's signing civil unions into law last month. The Hawai`i Senate gave final approval to the bill, SB232, which allows same- and different-sex unmarried couples to enter into civil unions, with an 18-5 vote on February 16, following the 31-19 approving vote by the House on February 11, 2011. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2012.

"I can't think of many occasions when we've been more delighted to dismiss a lawsuit than this," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "Governor Abercrombie removed the need for the lawsuit with the stroke of a pen—approving the Legislature's diligent work and giving thousands of Hawai`i families badly needed protection. We look forward to working closely with members of the legal and business communities to make sure the law is implemented smoothly and that everyone knows what their rights and responsibilities will be. And as this new law takes effect, we'll be watching closely for any signs of problems."

Civil unions will provide a full range of state law protections and duties to unmarried couples—gay and heterosexual alike—such as access to family court to resolve disputes in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as appropriate, and other vital family protections. The new law will also honor same-sex couples' marriages, civil unions and broad domestic partnerships from other states and countries.

Lambda Legal, the ACLU and AHFI filed Young v. Lingle (retitled Young v. Abercrombie following last year's election) in July 2010, after then-Governor Linda Lingle vetoed HB444, the previous civil union bill. The new civil union law provides same-sex couples the full range of rights and responsibilities sought in the lawsuit, so there is no need to continue the litigation at this time.

"As we celebrate this accomplishment, we are also reminded that full marriage equality for same-sex couples is the goal. Civil unions are a lesser status than civil marriage, so they can never fully satisfy the government’s constitutional duty to treat everyone equally under the law," noted Laurie Temple, ACLU staff attorney. "The ACLU and our allies will continue to work towards marriage equality, strengthened by the knowledge that, for now, civil unions will provide much needed protection for couples and their families. Governor Abercrombie and the Hawai`i Legislature should be commended for acting proactively to ensure treatment of same-sex couples that is closer to equal."

Clyde Wadsworth, of Alston, Hunt, Floyd & Ing added, "We are glad to see the rainbow of Hawai`i history bend closer toward justice with the signing of the civil unions bill."

Jennifer C. Pizer and Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, Lois Perrin, Daniel Gluck and Laurie A. Temple of the ACLU of Hawai`i, and Paul Alston, Clyde Wadsworth, and Stephen M. Tannenbaum of the Alston, Hunt, Floyd & Ing law firm have been co-counsel in the case.

As of this date, five states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont) and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Six states (California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) offer broad state-law protection through civil union or registered domestic partnership; Hawai`i makes it seven. Five more states (Hawai`i plus Colorado, Maryland, Maine and Wisconsin) offer more limited protections through a non-marriage status (enactment of SB232 does not change Hawai`i's reciprocal beneficiaries law). Others (including at least Maryland and New York, and probably New Mexico and, for some purposes, Rhode Island) respect marriages that same-sex couples entered into in other states. Consequently, based on population estimates from the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 40 percent of the United States population now resides in a jurisdiction offering same-sex couples at least some form of state-level legal protection.

For more information about civil unions and Hawai`i law:

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Media Contacts:

Loren Javier, Western Regional Director, Lambda Legal: 213-382-7600, ext. 234; mobile: 925-980-6398; ljavier@lambdalegal.org

Kit Grant, ACLU of Hawai`i Foundation: 808-522-5904; kgrant@acluhawaii.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The mission of the ACLU and its Hawai`i affiliate is to protect the fundamental freedoms contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide.

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