Hawaii's governor signed a bill into law yesterday legalizing civil unions for gay and straight couples in his state, marking another step forward for gay rights. But Obama's still "grappling" with his feelings on gay marriage.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the new law — the very first one Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie has signed as governor — allows couples, regardless of gender, to form civil unions with all the legal rights of marriage, including the right to file taxes jointly and to seek divorce in Family Court. Abercrombie says, "For me, this bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii — everyone who comes here. This is, to me, the essence of the aloha spirit." However, conservatives are worried the law will be a stepping stone to gay marriage. Says Allen Cardines Jr., executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, "The activists lobbying for civil unions really want same-sex marriage in Hawaii. We know it, they know it, and the people of Hawaii have a right to know it."
He could be right — Alan Spector of Equality Hawaii says, "Civil unions are not marriage, but they at least provide — on a state level — the concrete, tangible, legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. We still don't have the social significance and the social meaning of marriage ... but getting us to civil unions — psychologically and legally — is such a major barrier to cross." Given that gay couples in Hawaii remain second-class citizens linguistically and symbolically — if not legally — it makes sense that they might push for the right to marry just as straight people do. However, if that happens, they'll still face an uphill battle when it comes to getting their marriages recognized.
Though yesterday's decision to stop defending some parts of the Defense of Marriage Act in court is an important step, the Obama administration has a long way to go before it truly supports gay marriage. According to the AP, the White House says Obama is "grappling" with his personal feelings on the issue. He'll likely have to keep on "grappling" as challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act continue to reach the courts (somewhat confusingly, though it won't actively defend parts of the Act, the Dept. of Justice could still be asked to weigh in). It's unclear whether Obama's really struggling with his own feelings on the matter, or with how he can support gay rights and still get re-elected in a country still rife with homophobia. Whatever the case, the fight for real marriage equality in America is sure to be a long one. But in Hawaii, one battle has been won.