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Congratulations to Hawaii and Delaware
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/02/12
Last updated on: 01/02/12
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A couple celebrates their civil union in Hawaii.

On New Year's Day 2012, laws in Hawaii and Delaware that authorize civil unions went into effect. In both states gay and lesbian couples entered into civil unions at the first possible moment.

The road to civil unions in Hawaii was rocky. In 2010, a civil unions bill was passed with comfortable but not veto-proof margins by Hawaii's House of Representatives and Senate. The bill would have conferred on partners in civil unions all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

However, after a long period of consulting with opponents and proponents of the bill, Republican Governor Linda Lingle announced that she would exercise her right of veto to prevent the bill from becoming law. In vetoing the bill, the Governor called for a referendum on the issue.

The veto of the civil unions bill bitterly disappointed gay rights groups and supporters in Hawaii, but also sparked a call to action. The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Hawaii, and the lesbian-gay-transgendered caucus of the state Democratic Party worked hard to register voters and to campaign for the election of former Representative Neil Abercrombie as Governor of Hawaii in the 2010 election. Representative Abercrombie promised that if elected, he would happily sign the civil unions bill.

In 2011, with Governor Abercrombie having won a solid election victory, the legislature fast-tracked the civil unions bill that Governor Lingle had vetoed. In February, the state House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 31 to 18; in the Senate it was passed by a vote of 18 to 5. Declaring that the bill symbolized Hawaii's promise of equal rights and fairness, Governor Abercrombie signed it into law.

Four Honolulu couples were the first to enter into civil unions in Hawaii in a ceremony held about an hour after the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2012 at a private residence attended by about 90 people.

The gathering waited for the civil union applications to become available on the Internet after midnight. When they finally came on-line, it took each couple about ten minutes to complete the forms. Then, it took another five minutes for each of the three civil union officiants to apply for their licenses to perform the ceremony.

The couples, Donna Gedge and Monica Montgomery, Lydia Pontin and Bonnie Limatoc-DePonte, Gary Bradley and Paul Perry, and Saralynn Batt and Isajah Morales, were acutely aware of the historic nature of the occasion. "It represents the culmination of almost 20 years of an effort to achieve equality in Hawaii," guest Valerie Smith, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, told Ben Gutierrez of HawaiiNewsNow. "It's one step close to full marriage equality."

The path to civil unions in Delaware proved less dramatic than the one in Hawaii. After Democratic Governor Jack Markell, a gay rights supporter, was elected in 2008, hopes were raised for quick action on both a stalled anti-discrimination bill, which became law in 2009, and for a civil unions law. On April 14, 2011, the state House, on a bipartisan 26-15 vote, passed a robust civil unions bill that accords gay and lesbian couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage except the name. Two days later the Senate passed the bill on a 13-6 vote. Governor Markell signed it into law on May 12 before a large crowd of supporters in Wilmington.

In signing it into law, he said, "Tonight, with the signing of this law, we say to any Delawarean regardless of sexual orientation--if you've committed yourself to someone, and you've made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, when life or death decisions come, we honor your right to make those decisions together."

"Tonight," he continued, "we say to loving and committed couples across the state who want the law to endorse the promise that they made long ago in their hearts--'Your love is equally valid and deserving, your family is now equal under the law.'"

The first couple to enter into a civil union in Delaware were lawyers Lisa Goodman and Drewry Fennell, who were joined in the union by the Rev. Patricia Downing, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Wilmington, where the Sunday afternoon ceremony took place.

Goodman and Fennell have been partners for 14 years. Goodman led Equality Delaware's fight for the civil union law, while Fennell heads the state Criminal Justice Council and formerly led the ACLU's Delaware chapter.

The sermon was given by U.S. Senator Chris Coons and scripture was read by Lt. Governor Matt Denns.

"Everything went perfect, I couldn't be happier, everything was flawless," Ken Boulden Jr., the New Castle County Clerk of the Peace told CBS News. Boulden opened his office on Sunday so that Goodman and Fennell and seven other couples could get their licenses on the first day they were available. Boulden was a guest at the Goodman-Fennell ceremony.

Hawaii and Delaware joins New Jersey, Illinois, and Rhode Island in offering its gay and lesbian citizens the option of entering into civil unions. Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire also adopted civil unions, but subsequently replaced them with marriage.

In addition to the six states (Massachusetts, Iowa, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia that offer same-sex marriage, and the five states that offer civil unions, four states (California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada) offer domestic partnerships that are almost equivalent to marriage and another four (Colorado, Maine, Maryland, and Wisconsin) offer domestic partnerships that are more limited.

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