Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Hawaii’s Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that a state law banning same-gender couples from marrying violated the state’s constitution, allowing the case against the state to proceed. The ruling, reaffirmed in 1996 in the circuit court, led to not only lesbian and gay marriages in the state but also to antigay backlash, a constitutional amendment in 1998 banning same-gender marriage, and a 1999 decision by the state supreme court outlawing same-gender marriage.

Summary of Event

In 1996, judge Kevin Chang of the Hawaii circuit court made history when he ruled in favor of three same-gender couples who wished to marry in that state. The case began in 1990, when Ninia Baehr, her partner Genora Dancel, and two other same-gender couples decided to challenge, on state constitutional grounds, a Hawaii law forbidding gay and lesbian marriage. [kw]Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages (1993-1996) [kw]Same-Gender Marriages, Hawaii Opens Door to (1993-1996) [kw]Marriages, Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender (1993-1996) Same-gender marriage[same gender marriage];Hawaii Hawaii, and same-gender marriage Civil rights;Hawaii [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages[2260] [c]Civil rights;1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages[2260] [c]Government and politics;1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages[2260] Chang, Kevin Gingrich, Newt Baehr, Ninia Dancel, Genora Rodrigues, Tammy Pregil, Antoinette Lagon, Pat Melilio, Joseph

The six filed a lawsuit in 1991, arguing, in Baehr v. Lewin (later renamed Baehr v. Miike) Baehr v. Miike (1991, 1993)[Baehr v Miike] that the state constitution, in its due process and equal protection clauses, guaranteed that same-gender couples could marry in the same manner as heterosexual couples. They also argued that limiting marriage to that between a man and a woman violated the state constitution because it was sex discrimination. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court agreed, and the couples were allowed to challenge the law in court, leading to Chang’s historic decision.

However, after Chang’s 1996 decision, public opinion in Hawaii turned against gay and lesbian marriage, and opponents of the ruling immediately began an effort in Hawaii’s legislature to amend the state constitution to specifically outlaw same-gender marriage. In 1998, Hawaii’s voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment, so the state had to appeal Chang’s 1996 ruling on behalf of the voters. Therefore, because of the amendment to the state constitution, in 1999, Hawaii’s Supreme Court had to overturn Chang’s 1996 decision and rule in favor of the prohibitive law.

At the national level in 1996, as a direct result of Chang’s decision, conservative House speaker Newt Gingrich spearheaded the Defense of Marriage Act Defense of Marriage Act (1996) (DOMA), which defined “marriage” as being between one man and one woman. The bill passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 346 to 67 and the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14; President Bill Clinton then agreed to sign it. DOMA represented an effort to prevent other states from following Hawaii’s lead and making gay and lesbian marriage legal. DOMA did not prohibit any state from legalizing same-gender marriage, but made it optional for other states to recognize such marriages, or not. Conservative Christians dominated the national arguments, and Gingrich and other leaders argued that same-gender marriages were a threat to the “traditional” family and to traditional “family values.” "Family values"[family values];Hawaii DOMA also made same-gender couples ineligible for federal benefits programs reserved for legally married couples.


Throughout the 1990’s, same-gender couples had begun seeking domestic partnership benefits Corporations, and domestic partnership benefits from employers, forcing corporate America to reexamine its position on gay and lesbian rights, and the couples gained successes for the entire decade. In 1996, the Southern Baptist Convention threatened to boycott The Walt Disney Company because the company extended equal benefits to same-gender domestic partners, but the boycott had no financial impact on the company; indeed, it increased corporate support for domestic partner benefits.

The case in Hawaii brought the issue of same-gender marriage into the national spotlight, and it helped change public attitudes and opinions on same-gender marriage. Around the nation, same-gender couples began challenging laws opposed to gay and lesbian marriage, and state officials around the country began taking positions on the issue.

In 1998, an Alaska court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban same-gender marriage, but the legislature quickly enacted a constitutional amendment to do just that. In 1999, Vermont’s Supreme Court ruled that same-gender and opposite-gender couples were entitled to the same protections under that state’s constitution. In 2000, Vermont’s governor issued a civil-union bill, and Vermont officially became the first state to recognize same-gender civil unions Civil unions;Vermont . In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-gender marriages, and the state’s supreme court announced that civil unions would not grant couples the same protections as marriages. In the same year, New Jersey legalized civil unions Civil unions;New Jersey for gay and lesbian couples and the state’s Supreme Court, on October 25, 2006, ruled that same-gender couples are entitled to the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples. Also in 2004, San Francisco’s mayor announced that the California statutes limiting marriage to one man and one woman were in violation of the state constitution, and he issued more than two thousand marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, though the state later invalidated his action and the licenses were revoked.

In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision and threw out the laws in thirteen states that made consensual sodomy illegal. Though the justices specifically stated in their decision that the ruling was not intended to affect the legality of same-gender marriage, it has opened the door for challenges to the U.S. Constitution. Around the world, the Netherlands, in 2001, became the first country to recognize same-gender marriages, followed by Belgium in 2003 and Spain and Canada in 2005. South Africa is expected to determine same-gender marriage rights by the end of 2006.

In 2004, U.S. president George W. Bush Bush, George W. called for a constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian marriage, arguing that DOMA might well be overturned on constitutional grounds and that traditional family values and the traditional view of marriage were in danger of being completely redefined. However, the attempt failed in the Senate. Amendment proponents would have needed at least sixty votes to bring the issue to the Senate floor for formal discussion, and proponents were able to muster just forty-eight votes. (The vote was 48-50, and to actually advance a proposed constitutional amendment through the process of amending the constitution, either sixty-six or sixty-seven senators would have had to vote in favor of the bill, depending on the number of senators actually voting.) The proposed amendment’s failure was a success for GLBT rights activists under a conservative administration and a strong indication that the change in public attitudes is slowly bringing a change in legislative behavior as well. Same-gender marriage[same gender marriage];Hawaii Hawaii, and same-gender marriage Civil rights;Hawaii

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coolidge, David Orgon. “Same-Sex Marriage, as Hawaii Goes.” First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life 72 (April, 1997): 33-37. http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9704/articles/coolidge.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hull, Kathleen E. “The Political Limits of the Rights Frame: The Case of Same-Sex Marriage in Hawaii.” Sociological Perspectives 44, no. 2 (2001): 207-232.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kotulski, Davina. Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage. Los Angeles: Advocate Books, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mello, Michael. Legalizing Gay Marriage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moats, David. Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “Differences Between Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnerships” (August 18, 2004). http://thetaskforce.org/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rauch, Jonathan. Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature.” Law Library, Rutgers School of Law. http://law-library.rutgers.edu/SSM.html.

1981: Gay and Lesbian Palimony Suits Emerge

1986: Bowers v. Hardwick Upholds State Sodomy Laws

August 6, 1994: Japanese American Citizens League Supports Same-Gender Marriage

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

December 20, 1999: Baker v. Vermont Leads to Recognition of Same-Gender Civil Unions

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

April, 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions

June 17, 2003, and July 19, 2005: Canada Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

June 26, 2003: U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Texas Sodomy Law

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

November 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships

April 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage

Categories: History