Today, Hawaii moved a step closer to equality as the state’s civil unions law went into effect, affording the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples.
In honor of this historic day, Equality Hawaii congratulates the couples entering into civil unions this year and thanks its members, partners, and allies for making this historic day possible.
Equality Hawaii also “expresses its gratitude to the people of Hawaii, our Governor, and our legislators for the courage and commitment they’ve shown in achieving this significant milestone in civil rights legislation,” said Equality Hawaii Co-Chair Josh Frost.
Signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in February, the law grants state-level spousal rights and duties to couples who cannot or do not wish to enter into a marriage. A civil union, however, does not afford any federal rights and will not be recognized by some other states.
“This new law will provide a much-needed legal framework to support and fortify the bonds between couples and families,” added Equality Hawaii Foundation Co-Chair Gigi Lee.
The implementation of civil unions comes nearly 20 years after the ground-breaking 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that launched the marriage equality movement sweeping the globe.
“Almost two decades after the struggle for marriage equality began in Hawaii, a new majority has emerged that reaffirms the abiding principles of marriage as values-oriented,” said Equality Hawaii Foundation Co-Chair Valerie Smith, “They understand its ultimate meaning is not based on who it excludes, but how it entrusts in us all the strength to face life’s challenges and blessings with the one we promise to love forever.”
While Equality Hawaii acknowledges that the passage of civil unions is a momentous and unprecedented step forward, it also assures its members that the organization will continue to work to bring marriage equality to the state.
“Marriage is still the ultimate expression of love and commitment in our society,” Equality Hawaii Advisory Board Member Alan Spector asserts, “To argue this isn’t the case for same-sex couples is to deny their very membership in society and their investment in its collective beliefs and aspirations.”
Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawaii and Equality Hawaii, just released a guide for couples contemplating entering into a civil union.
ENTERING INTO A CIVIL UNION IN HAWAI’I:
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS, WHAT IT MEANS & HOW TO DO IT!
When Do The Rights & Responsibilies For Civil Union Partners Take Effect?
The Hawai`i civil union law took effect January 1, 2012, and civil union partners will have access to the full range of state law rights and responsibilities when they enter into their civil union. Rights and responsibilities related to Hawai`i state tax laws will apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2011.
Who Will Be Able To Enter A Civil Union?
A same-sex or different-sex couple will be able to enter a civil union if:
● Both partners are at least 18 years old;
● Neither is a partner in another civil union, a spouse in a marriage, or in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship;
● The partners are not close relatives; and
● A partner under supervision of a conservator or guardian has that person’s consent.
Will A Same-Sex Couple’s Marriage, Civil Union, Or Registered Domestic Partnership From Another State Be Recognized As A Civil Union In Hawai`i?
The law provides that “all unions” couples have entered in other jurisdictions that are not recognized as marriages in Hawai`i shall be treated as civil unions, as long as those unions were validly entered, the couple meets the requirements for a Hawai`i civil union, and the union can be documented. For example, if a same-sex couple entered a valid marriage in Massachusetts, meets Hawai`i’s civil union requirements, and can document their marriage, they will be recognized as civil union partners in Hawai`i.
Because the law is still developing, we expect further guidance in the future about the out-of-state unions recognized as civil unions in Hawai`i. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
How Do Couples Enter A Civil Union?
The Department of Health will make available an online registration system after midnight on Jan. 1, 2012. The agency has also prepared an information page with detailed guidelines on how to obtain your license. To view this site, click here.
Couples must obtain a license from an authorized civil union agent. The online application system should provide applicants with a list of registered agents. Within 30 days after the license is issued, a judge, retired judge or clergy person must solemnize the couple’s union.
Note: If a same-sex couple registered as reciprocal beneficiaries wishes to enter a Hawai`i civil union, or to have an out-of-state union recognized as a civil union in Hawai`i, they must first terminate their Hawaii reciprocal beneficiary relationship. If the termination occurred within 30 days of applying for a civil union license, proof of termination must be presented to an authorized civil union agent.
How Do Couples Terminate Their Hawai`i Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship?
Currently, terminating a reciprocal beneficiary relationship must be done by mail. It is important to note that mailing in your Declaration of Termination form does not complete the termination. The state health director must sign a Certificate of Termination before the relationship status is terminated.
To help minimize any gap in protections between terminating a reciprocal beneficiary relationship and entering a civil union, the Honolulu office of the Department of Health now offers the option of telephone or email notification for in-person pick-up of the Certificate of Termination. These options are indicated at the bottom of the Declaration of Termination form.
Guidelines are available from the Hawai’i Department of Health on how to terminate your Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship (RB).
What Rights & Obligations Will Civil Union Partners Have In Hawai`i?
Family Law Rights and Responsibilities
● Duties of joint financial support and liability for family debts during the relationship;
● Access to step-parent and joint adoption;
● Legal presumption that both partners are parents of children born into the civil union – but adoption is still important, especially for interstate travel;
● Dissolution of the civil union in family court, including access to equitable division of the relationship assets and debts;
● Right to seek financial support upon breakup;
● Access to custody, visitation and support orders concerning children upon breakup;
● Protection under domestic violence and crime victim laws.
Medical and Death-Related Rights
● Hospital visitation, medical decision-making;
● Priority to administer deceased partner’s estate, and to authorize anatomical gifts and release of medical records, and to make funeral arrangements;
● Right to seek money damages for partner’s wrongful death, lost financial support and companionship;
● Right to inherit in the absence of a will;
● Same protection spouses receive against duty to repay public medical costs upon death of partner; and
● For State employees, partner health insurance and other family benefits.
Other Rights and Responsibilities
● Right to file joint state income tax returns, and state tax exemption regarding value of partner health insurance;
● Right to hold real property in “tenancy by the entirety” (which offers some protection against creditors);
● Some workplace benefits, including sick leave to care for ill partner, and where work injury causes death, funeral and burial expenses, and death benefits;
● Equal treatment as spouses under state insurance laws, unless they conflict with federal law;
● Right not to testify against civil union partner;
● All state law rights and responsibilities spouses receive through marriage, including many others too numerous to list here.
What Rights & Responsibilities Of Marriage Will NOT Be Given To Civil Union Partners?
● All federal rights and responsibilities, including the ability to file joint federal income tax returns; exemption from income tax on domestic partner health insurance; social security survivors’ and spousal benefits; exemption from inheritance tax; spousal protections in bankruptcy; federal veterans’ spousal benefits; immigration rights; and
● Automatic legal status in most other states.
When Might A Couple Be Advised NOT To Enter A Civil Union?
● If they wish to adopt from a state or country that may not approve adoptions by lesbians, gay men, same-sex couples or unmarried different-sex couples;
● If either depends on public assistance;
● If either is a foreign national without permanent legal status in the U.S.;
● If either or both do not want the state law rights and mutual responsibilities the new law will provide civil union partners, or are concerned about the open questions about how state law will interact with federal laws that do not recognize same-sex couples or unmarried different-sex couples.
Will Couples Get These New Rights If They Just Register As Domestic Partners With An Employer Or As Reciprocal Beneficiaries With The State?
No. Couples who have registered with an employer for domestic partner benefits and/or as reciprocal beneficiaries with the State of Hawai`i will not be protected under the new law unless they enter a civil union.