The Freedom to Marry in Hawaii

Winning Marriage: December 2, 2013

Same-sex couples began marrying in Hawaii on December 2, 2013 after Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the freedom to marry into law on November 13, 2013, shortly after the bill was approved by the state Legislature. The victory came two decades after the favorable 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court decision that ignited a global movement.

History and the Path to Victory:

  • December 17, 1990: Three same-sex couples in Hawaii apply for marriage licenses at the Hawaii Department of Health, and months later have their applications formally denied.
  • May 1, 1991: Civil rights lawyer Dan Foley files Baehr v. Lewin (later Baehr v. Miike), a legal case in Hawaii on behalf of the same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry. Although no local or national LGBT organization is involved in the case, Lambda Legal permits staffer Evan Wolfson to file an amicus brief in support of the freedom to marry.
  • October 1, 1991: A trial court in Hawaii dismisses the case, the same outcome as every other previous marriage case dating to the 1970s. Foley and the plaintiffs appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
  • May 5, 1993: The Hawaii Supreme Court makes history by ruling that denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution. The Court is the first appellate ever to rule that denying the freedom to marry is discrimination and presumptively unconstitutional. The Court rules that the state of Hawaii must demonstrate a “compelling state interest” for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Hawaii's Global Impact

The Freedom to Marry in Hawaii: A Victory 20 Years in the Making

Don't miss this in-depth look at the fight for marriage in Hawaii, focused mostly on the historic 1990s ruling and trial that ignited a global movement for marriage.

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  • September 10, 1996: Hawaii state court judge Kevin Chang gavels to order the world’s first-ever trial on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Even as marriage opponents work overtime to push marriage discrimination - as they do with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the United States Congress and other discriminatory measures in dozens of states -  Dan Foley and Evan Wolfson (now co-counsel in the case) have the unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate the importance of the freedom to marry through the months-long trial.
  • December 3, 1996: Following months of witness testimony and cross-examination, briefing, and argument, Hawaii judge Kevin Chang issues a historic ruling in favor of the freedom to marry. The decision is appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
  • November 3, 1998: With the Baehr decision on appeal, marriage opponents push through a ballot initiative that enacts a constitutional amendment allowing the Hawaii Legislature - but not the courts - to rule on the freedom to marry.
  • December 1999: The Hawaii Supreme Court rules that the 1998 constitutional amendment prohibits the Court from issuing a ruling in the marriage case, bringing Baehr to an end.
  • 1999-2014: As Americans nationwide engage in conversations about why marriage matters, national and local advocates in Hawaii take strides toward increasing understanding of same-sex couples and their families.
  • February 23, 2011: Governor Neil Abercrombie signs into law a bill allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil union, which provides many but not all of the protections and responsibilities of marriage. Same-sex couples begin joining into civil union on January 1, 2012.
  • December 7, 2011: Same-sex couples and private counsel file a federal legal case seeking the freedom to marry, Jackson v. Abercrombie, building momentum for marriage across the state. Read the initial complaint here
  • August 8, 2012: Judge Alan C. Kay rules against Hawaii’s same-sex couples in Jackson v. AbercrombieRead the ruling here. The legal team appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • September 9, 2013: Governor Neil Abercrombie announces that the Hawaii Legislature will hold a special legislative session beginning October 28 in order to pass the freedom to marry.
  • November 13, 2013: Governor Neil Abercrombie signs the freedom to marry into law following the bill’s previous passage in the Hawaii House and Senate.
  • December 2, 2013: The statute takes effect, and same-sex couples begin marrying in Hawaii.
  • June 26, 2015: The United States Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage for same-sex couples, ending marriage discrimination across the country.

Groups That Actively Worked on Marriage:

  • Hawaii United for Marriage was a broad coalition of people, organizations, and groups working to secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Hawaii. Freedom to Marry was proud to serve as a leading member of the coalition.
  • Equality Hawaii is the central statewide organization dedicated to securing equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their families in Hawaii.
  • The ACLU of Hawaii works to protect the rights and liberties of all Hawaii residents through lobbying, litigation and education.
  • Freedom to Marry was the campaign to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide.