The Race to 15: Hawaii on its way to recognizing same-sex marriages (again)

Well, it looks like Illinois has some competition on becoming the 15th state to recognize same-sex marriages. On Friday, the Hawaii state House of Representatives approved a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.  Tomorrow, the bill heads back to the state Senate, which approved an early version of the legislation. So whichever governor signs the bill into law first (Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign on November 20th), will determine who is the 15th and who is the 16th to state to recognize gay marriages.

Not the first time around for Hawaii

You may remember that Hawaii was the first state to actually recognize same-sex marriages.  In 1993, three Hawaiian couples filed a lawsuit to receive marriage licenses. The state’s Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the state’s equal protection clause, and it remanded the case back to the trial court to see if the state could justify the discrimination by showing the denial was “narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.” (This is known in the legal world as a “strict scrutiny” test.)

The decision spawned a state and national backlash against gay marriage. Many states eventually amended their constitutions to bar such unions and DOMA was created on the federal level in 1996.

As for Hawaii, a trial court ruled that the state could not meet its burden of proof and ordered the state to start issuing marriage licenses. However, while an appeal to the decision was pending, Hawaiian voters approved an amendment to their constitution in 1998 that only allowed the state legislature to decide who can marry, thus nullifying the court’s decision.

Lesbian state rep votes against her own rights

An interesting side note: Hawaii state representative Jo Jordan, a lesbian, voted “no” on the bill. Her explanation is a bit convoluted and seems almost retaliatory.

Luckily her vote wasn’t needed. (Can you imagine what would have happened had it come down to her vote?)

16 Down, 34 to go

In the end, it really doesn’t matter who is 15th or 16th state to allow same-sex marriages, as long as they keep coming.  34 more to go!