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30th anniversary of Hawaiʻi state Supreme Court decision on marriage equality

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House Democrats and members of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiʻi Health & Harm Reduction Center celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. Photo Credit: Hawaiʻi House of Representatives

Hawaiʻi House Democrats on Monday joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiʻi Health & Harm Reduction Center in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality.

It recognized the leaders who contributed to the pursuit of marriage equality during Baehr v. Lewin.

“I am proud of the historic role that our state played in the pursuit of marriage equality, and I am pleased to recognize these leaders’ contributions to starting a process that took too long but ultimately leaned toward justice,” House Speaker Scott K. Saiki said in a press release.


On behalf of the House, Saiki and Rep. David A. Tarnas presented Magistrate Judge Kevin S.C. Chang, Judge Daniel R. Foley (Ret.) and Hawaiʻi Supreme Court Justice Steven H. Levinson (Ret.) with legislative certificates, honoring each individual for their efforts in support of marriage equality.

Foley reflected about representing three same-sex couples who filed the original lawsuit against the state in 1993 as part of the Hawai‘i Equal Rights Marriage Project.

“We left the courtroom that day thinking we had a shot, and in May of ’93 the Supreme Court issued a decision by Justice Levinson stating that it is discrimination under the equal protection clause in the State Constitution to deny a marriage license and the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples,” Foley said.


Levinson somberly recalled the national impact this decision made, sparking President Bill Clinton to sign the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home states, from receiving the benefits available to other married couples under federal law.

“This decision precipitated the Defense of Marriage Law enacted by Congress in 1996; the purpose of this legislation was to contain the decision so that it couldn’t affect the rest of the United States,” Levinson said.

2023 marks the 30th anniversary of Baehr v. Lewin, where the Hawaiʻi State Supreme Court determined that denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple violated the equal protection guaranteed by the State Constitution.


Advocates today paid tribute to the actions taken in Hawaiʻi 30 years ago that paved the road to success for marriage equality at the national level.

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