The new year ushered in legal recognition for many gay and lesbian couples in two new states. Hawaii and Delaware began registering same-sex civil unions on January 1. Meanwhile, in Washington state, there may be movement toward marriage.
Hawaii's Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill nearly one year ago after the state House and Senate approved that bill in February of 2011. An earlier civil unions bill had also passed in 2010, but it was blocked by a veto from former Republican Governor, Linda Lingle.
Hawaii is recognized as the first American state to have battled over same-sex marriages. The state's Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that Hawaii's ban against gay marriages was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, after much delay, voters passed a discriminatory constitutional amendment in 1998. It gave Hawaii's legislators the ability to ban same-sex marriages, which they did soon after. The new civil union bill has been seen by some gay rights observers as a positive development, but it also represents a disappointing compromise at a time when other regions are moving toward full marriage equality.
Donna Gedge and Monica Montgomery were one of the first couples to be joined under Hawaii's new civil union law. A couple of online computer glitches delayed the acquisition of their license, but it did go through eventually. A similar computer problem frustrated other couples on Tuesday morning who showed up in person at the Health Department. Monica Montgomery told the media on Sunday that it felt good to have the state's support. Donna Gedge said that even though their families did not fully approve or attend, at least they had one another (CNN):
"We really don't want to wait any longer, because we have been together for 33 years, waiting for our opportunity, and our rights, and everything that goes with them."
On the other side of the country, Delaware's new civil union bill also took effect on January 1. The legislature-approved bill had been signed into law by Democratic Governor Jack Markell back in May 2011. WDEL reported that some excited couples had made plans to get their licenses without realizing that the office was going to be closed on the holiday Sunday. Thankfully, the Clerk of the Peace, Ken Boulden, opened his office to accommodate eight of the eager couples. One lesbian, Lisa Goodman, was first to receive a license to be joined with her partner Drew Fennell. She told WDEL:
"We've been a family in our hearts but after we solemnize this we're going to be a family in the eyes of the law. And that is a tremendous, tremendous thing."
In other news, leaders in the northwest state of Washington are expected today to begin an effort to legalize gay marriages. The Weekly Herald reported that the Governor Chris Gregoire's spokesperson announced only that she will be "addressing marriage equality." One hopeful state representative, Marko Liias, who is gay, told the Herald that he had been invited to the announcement (Weeky Herald):
"I'm taking my partner with me and we're excited to hear what the governor has to say."
The press conference is scheduled for today, Wednesday, January 3. Governor Gregoire had previously enacted a gay partnership bill in May 2009. It was dubbed by many to be the "Everything But Marriage Bill." A rather nasty battle began soon after it was enacted. A confusing public referendum, R-71, was put on the November 2009 ballot. It was narrowly approved by voters -- meaning the pro-gay relationship law was allowed to stand. A NOM-affiliated group had gathered 137,500 signatures to overturn it. After their referendum failed to do that, they fought against the release of their petition's names for two years. In October 2011, a judge finally ruled that the names should be released. The state briefly complied, but the secretary of state quickly put a hold on the release.