Hawaii Court Hands Down Historic Decision

December 03, 1996

Case Marks a Crucial Step Forward on the Road to Same-Gender Marriage

In Hawaii today, First Circuit Court Judge Kevin Chang handed down a historic decision in Baehr v. Miike, the case of three same-gender couples who sued for the right to marry. In his decision, Judge Chang rejected the claims made by the state that such marriages should remain illegal. Instead, he declared the right of same-gender couples to marry as protected by the Hawaii state constitution.

"This decision is one small but crucial step forward in a long march toward civil equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We seek the same rights and responsibilities of marriage that heterosexual people enjoy. Marriage is an important personal choice and a basic human right. Whether gay people decide to get married or not, it should be our choice," added Lobel.

At a trial in September the state Attorney General's office marshaled expert witnesses to demonstrate the state had a compelling reason to prohibit same-gender marriage. The state particularly focused on the needs of children, claiming two-parent couples of a man and a woman provided the best environment in which to raise children. "The Attorney General in Hawaii had three years to pull together the evidence to make his case, and the judge wasn't convinced," said Lobel. "It proves what our community has said all along: there are no intelligent reasons why same-gender couples should be denied the right to marry."

The decision in Hawaii comes at the end of a long year in which the issue of same-gender marriage had been exploited by right-wing religious extremists for political purposes. Legislation to block recognition of same-gender marriages was introduced in 37 state legislatures. All told, 21 of the anti-gay measures were defeated and 16 passed. In addition, the Republican-dominated 104th Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to reject same-gender marriages recognized in other states and defines marriage as the union of a man and woman for the purposes of benefits and entitlements from federal programs. President Clinton signed DOMA into law in September.

Today's decision by the court will most likely be appealed and stayed until the higher court makes it final judgment. Anti-marriage legislation is again expected to be introduced in many state legislatures in the coming year. NGLTF's Lobel believes the decision and the state legislative battles will further the cause of equality:

This decision is an important step toward the right to marry, but we aren't there yet. The radical right is again going to attack LGBT people with these marriage bills. These attacks, however, will ultimately backfire. These bills generate discussion, debate, and education. They help reveal the truth about our lives and our families. As this lower court trial showed, information and debate help, not hurt, the case for same-gender marriage. The public is learning that it is bigotry and intolerance they should fear, not same-gender marriage. We believe the American people will not stand idly by as our families are scapegoated in an effort by the Right to promote an extremist agenda.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.