Same-sex couples in Hawaii look to California
Tambry Young and Suzanne King have traveled across the nation seeking marriage equality. They were wed last November in Massachusetts, one of five states that allow same-sex couples to marry. They recently visited Washington D.C., which recognizes their union.
Now the couple — who have been together for nearly 30 years — are looking to California to help pave the way toward legalizing their union in their home state, Hawaii.
Young and King joined five other gay and lesbian couples in Hawaii last month and filed suit against Gov. Linda Lingle after she vetoed legislation approved earlier this year that would have allowed same-sex civil unions.
They hope the Aug. 4 ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker striking down California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage will become the legal precedent that other courts in the country eventually will follow.
The Hawaii lawsuit focuses on legalizing civil unions, which give same-sex partners the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, such as obligations to children, inheritance rights and end-of-life decision-making. The Hawaiian Constitution bans same-sex marriage.
Their civil union lawsuit makes many of the same arguments outlined in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, the case that led Walker to rule that gay marriage poses no harm to heterosexual couples and that California has no legitimate interest in prohibiting gays from marrying.
Appeals court judges for nine Western states, including Hawaii and California, are delving into the questions spurred by Walker’s landmark ruling.
In the California case, judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are focusing on whether opponents of same-sex marriage have the legal standing to appeal Walker’s ruling. The lawsuit brought by two California couples named Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the defendant, and neither he nor Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown plans to appeal on behalf of the state.
In Massachusetts, a judge has ruled that parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages by any entity of the federal government, violate the Constitution.
“When you look at what’s happening in California and Massachusetts — it’s all good activity going on. It just keeps you hopeful,” said King, who scored a legal victory a decade ago when courts allowed her to adopt the child to whom Young gave birth after artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor.
Hawaii has been a key battleground in the campaign for marriage equality. In 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled that denying gays the right to marry was a form of sex discrimination. But in 1998, state lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that made Hawaii the first U.S. state to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples.
Sean Smith, another of the Hawaiian plaintiffs, sees Walker’s ruling as the first breach of the legal wall erected against same-sex marriage in 42 states.
“It’s definitely going to happen. We’re just not sure how long it’s going to take,” said Smith, who was discharged from the Army five years ago when it was discovered he was gay. He has since gone to law school and is a first-year associate at a Honolulu firm.
Walker’s detailed ruling in overturning Proposition 8 is likely to help plaintiffs in other states challenge the prohibition of gay marriage and same-sex unions, said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, which is representing the Hawaiian couples. In California, Pizer said, the judge ruled that prohibiting gay marriage violates the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.
“Regardless of what happens next with Perry … even if the legal effect is only in California, it’s something we can cite in other cases,” Pizer said.
While marriage for all may be the long-term goal, Pizer said, first suing to gain the right for civil unions serves the gay community’s strategy of creating “state building blocks” before seeking federal court validation of constitutional rights.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in Hawaii express concern about Walker’s decision, but they point out that recognition of a constitutional right of gays to marry will ultimately depend on the U.S. Supreme Court, not Hawaii or California.
Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, disputes Walker’s finding that denying marriage to gays violates their constitutional rights.
“I see this as behavior and not civil rights,” Hashimoto said. “We discriminate all the time against behavior, like tobacco smokers and those who abuse alcohol.”