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social sciences

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Honolulu, Hawaii  
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The year 2002 was an important year in glbtq history in Hawaii. That year the Board of Education, taking a step back, voted to remove all of the protected categories in their code of conduct. In the same year, the first high school club to mention sexual orientation by name was established at Kalaheo High School. Also in 2002, the state received a visit from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, pastored by notorious Fred Phelps, in response to a middle school teacher's distribution of a nationally certified pamphlet on sex education that discussed homosexuality. Near the end of the year, the ACLU fought for, and won, a student's right to wear a gown at her graduation.

Over time Hawaii is slowly catching up to the rest of the nation. The political scene in the islands has been tense with regard to gay issues, but glbtq people continue to struggle to secure recognition and rights.

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[Recent Developments

The long struggle for equal rights for gay and lesbian couples in Hawaii finally led to the adoption of civil unions in 2011

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

After a long period of consulting with opponents and proponents of the bill, Governor Linda Lingle announced on July 6 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, declaring "I have become convinced that this issue is of such significant societal importance that it deserves to be decided directly by all the people of Hawaii."

The veto of the civil unions bill sparked a call to action on the part of gay rights groups in Hawaii and on the mainland. The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Hawaii, and the lesbian-gay-transgendered caucus of the 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.

An unabashed supporter of civil unions, Abercrombie defeated opponents of civil unions in both the Democratic primary and the general election. In addition, some key opponents of civil unions were defeated for election to the state Senate and House of Representatives.

In 2011, the newly-elected 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.

The law took effect on January 1, 2012, making Hawaii the seventh state to provide same-sex couples civil unions or domestic partnerships with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

Upon the announcement of the Senate's vote on February 16, 2011, Governor Abercrombie issued a statement declaring that civil unions "respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha. . . . this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii."

On the same day that the Senate approved the civil unions bill, it also ratified Governor Abercrombie's appointment of Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna to the state Supreme Court. McKenna became the first openly gay Justice to sit on the Hawaii Supreme Court.

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