Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage Wednesday as Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law that will allow gay weddings as soon as Dec. 2.
"Finally, today now all those who have been invisible will be visible to themselves and the whole world," Abercrombie said before he sat down and signed the bill.
Abercrombie said that he never thought he would "have both the opportunity and responsibility" to do something as profound as the legalizing of same-sex marriage. He likened moment to the signing of Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that banned sexual discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds, which he said affected "the universe for women for all time."
"Another universe is about to change for all time," he said to an applauding audience, many of whom were wearing rainbow colored leis.
The Senate passed the bill 19-4 on Tuesday afternoon, sending it to Abercrombie, who had said he would sign it.
On Wednesday, Hawaii Sen. Clayton Hee, who began to tear up and had to pause during his remarks, spoke on behalf of the Senate.
"I could never have imagined that I would play a role in such a profound yet, in my mind, a really simple thing to do -- bring justice and equality to all of us," Hee said.
House Rep. Chris Lee echoed Hee's sentiments: "We all deserve the same Aloha."
Before Abercombie signed the bill, Hawaiian musicians Willie K and Amy Hanaiali’i sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” crooned Willie K. “I hope some day you will join us and the word will live as one.”
The legislation in the Aloha State is the latest in a recent flurry of activity regarding same-sex marriage rights. The Illinois Legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill last week, though Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will not sign his state’s bill until Nov. 20. The District of Columbia also permits same-sex couples to wed.
"By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation," President Obama, a native of Hawaii, said in a statement after the Senate vote Tuesday. "I've always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today's vote makes me even prouder."
Abercrombie has been a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage, and called a special session of Hawaii’s Legislature to consider the same-sex marriage legislation.
The Senate, which is made up mostly of Democrats, passed the bill early in the special session and sent it to the House. The House deliberations lasted for several days and included a committee hearing in which 5,000 people signed up to testify for more than 50 hours, followed by hours of debate on the House floor on nearly 30 proposed amendments. The House passed the bill 30-19 Friday night after a session that lasted about 12 hours. It then returned to the Senate, to accommodate the changes made in the House.
Since the special session began, the Capitol rotunda in Honolulu has been filled with both supporters and detractors of the bill. When the House passed the measure in the late hours of the night, both cheers and chants of “Let the people vote!” broke out.
Opponents cite a 1998 constitutional amendment that they claim prohibits the Legislature from allowing same-sex marriage. Hawaii Rep. Bob McDermott filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie, arguing that the courts need to rule on the meaning of the constitutional amendment before gay marriage can be legal in Hawaii.
Hawaii Atty. Gen. David Louie has said that he believes the Legislature has the right to allow same-sex marriage. The constitutional amendment gave the Legislature the power to ban same-sex marriage, but did not actually ban it, he says.
McDermott filed for a temporary restraining order on the law, that is likely to be heard Thursday.
Including Hawaii and Illinois, approximately a third of the states in the country will allow gay marriage. This represents a significant victory for gay rights advocates, which was furthered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to void a key section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples who were married under state law.
Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island began allowing such nuptials this year. New Jersey began allowing same-sex weddings in October after that state's supreme court ruled that the law now allowed it and Gov. Chris Christie dropped his opposition.
In Idaho on Friday, four couples filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking a similar right. The lawsuit covers those who were married elsewhere and want their nuptials to be legally recognized in Idaho, as well as those seeking to wed within the state.
“They say that justice delayed is justice denied, and for almost 20 years justice has been delayed and denied for our gay brothers and sisters who wanted to get married, but no longer,” Louie said at the signing Wednesday.
“No longer,” Louie repeated to much applause.
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