Lambda Legal and ACLU File Lawsuit Against Hawai'i Governor Seeking Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples
"The political process has failed the thousands of families who need the protections civil unions would have provided."
(Honolulu, July 29, 2010) - Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i Foundation ("ACLU") today filed suit against the State of Hawai'i three weeks after Governor Linda Lingle's veto of House Bill ("HB") 444, a bill that would have allowed unmarried couples to enter into civil unions with comprehensive state law rights and responsibilities. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six same-sex couples, five from O'ahu and one from Hawai'i Island.
"It's tragic that something needed so badly by so many Hawai'i families was derailed with a stroke of the governor's pen," said Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel. "We had hoped we'd never have to file this lawsuit but the political process has failed the thousands of families who need the protections civil unions would have provided. Every Hawai'i family should be treated equally under the law, but because the state refuses to do that, we're forced to go to the courts."
The complaint filed today in the Hawai'i First Circuit Court argues that the state violates its own constitution by denying same-sex couples important rights and protections readily available to heterosexual couples through marriage.
Lois Perrin, ACLU of Hawai'i Legal Director said: "Governor Lingle vetoed HB 444, thereby failing in her sworn duty to do what's best for the state she governs. To add insult to injury, she would now put fundamental rights up for a popular vote."
"The constitution and the courts exist to prevent the majority - even when spearheaded by the Governor - from denying the rights of the few, which is why we filed this case," added Clyde Wadsworth, of counsel at Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing.
Hawai'i's constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done. The lawsuit does not ask for marriage - only for the state to make available the full range of state law protections and duties to gay and lesbian couples, such as access to the same legal protections regarding parent-child relationships, access to family court, child support and alimony. The current "reciprocal beneficiaries" system not only fails to provide many basic rights but also is confusing in its incompleteness and sends a harmful message that the state views same-sex couples as unworthy of the full range of rights and protections.
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 law firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd & Ing are co-counsel in the case.
Filing documents and more information available at: www.lambdalegal.org/young-v-lingle
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 ACLU of Hawai'i's mission is to protect the fundamental freedoms contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide.
San Francisco Bay Times: Suing Montana
Meanwhile, in what appears to be a deliberate new strategy, gay legal groups are targeting some of the states that have banned marriage by constitutional amendment. In Montana, the ACLU sued the state for equal rights on behalf of several same-sex couples, arguing that even if marriage was foreclosed by law, the equality principles in the constitution still require that Montana offer all the rights and benefits of marriage to gay couples, short of the name itself.
I think Lambda and the ACLU are poised to file a similar suit in Hawaii, now that Governor Lingle has vetoed the state’s civil union bill.