Hawaii Marriage Case Proceeds After Historic Concessions by State Legislators
(NEW YORK, April 17, 1997) - Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday that its Hawaii marriage case remains "fully on track" while state legislators prepare historic provisions for lesbian and gay couples in a deal to get a proposed constitutional amendment to voters 19 months from now.
"Our case is fully on track, and the deal proposed in Hawaii only highlights what the courts already have said -- lesbian and gay families deserve broad protections and benefits," said Lambda Marriage Project Director Evan Wolfson, who, with Honolulu attorney Dan Foley, won December's landmark ruling in Baehr v. Miike. On behalf of three lesbian and gay couples seeking to marry, Lambda and Foley now are fighting the state's appeal, likely to be heard in coming months.
Wolfson's comments followed Wednesday night deal-making by Hawaii legislators, who moved closer to sending a proposal to voters that seeks to give the legislature the power, but not mandate it, to restrict civil marriage to opposite-sex couples. If the amendment passes in November 1998, the legislature would not be able to enact such a restriction on marriage before 1999.
Hawaii's highest court has said the state's constitution forbids discrimination based on sex and therefore cannot bar individuals of the same sex from civil marriage.
Under pressure from right-wing groups, Hawaii legislators scrambled to reach agreement on the amendment proposal by preparing to approve separately the country's most sweeping "rights-and-benefits package" for couples who cannot marry. That package would take effect in July 1997.
"Fighting for the freedom to marry compels even our worst enemies to recognize the value and needs of lesbian and gay families. But the mix of benefits we now have won in Hawaii is no substitute for full equality, and only fuels our fight," Wolfson said.
Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "Pat Robertson and other religious extremists are so desperate to block the freedom to marry for lesbians and gay men that they made historic concessions to our families in Hawaii, even while they hypocritically oppose the very same protections and benefits in other states."
In Honolulu, Foley added, "We will urge Hawaii voters not to write 'separate and unequal' into the state constitution in 1998."