Is Hawaii Next for Gay Marriage? Local Gay Rights Advocates Say Yes

UPDATED 11/21/2012 1 p.m.

Emboldened by wins on Election Day, local advocates for same-sex marriage say Hawaii may be one of the next states to legalize it.

Legislation could be introduced as early as the 2013 Hawaii Legislature, which opens Jan. 16.

The gay-marriage advocates say discussion is already underway to consider the best approach, something that will become clearer over the next few months as the governor, the state Senate and the House prepare their respective legislative packages.

For now, the executive and legislative branches are not publicly disclosing any details. Lawmakers may also opt to wait and see what the U.S. Supreme Court rules in several landmark gay-marriage cases over the next year.

But, in an ironic twist, the very same 1998 constitutional amendment that led Hawaii to define marriage as between a man and a woman could be the mechanism that one day legalizes gay marriage.

"By virtue of the 1998 amendment, the Legislature has a monopoly over what the configuration of marriage is going to look like in Hawaii, including whether marriage will be opened to others," said Steven Levinson, a former associate justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court. "The Legislature can do it by statute, because Article 1, Section 23 of the Hawaii Constitution says the Legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples."

That same power, he reasons, gives lawmakers the right to reverse that decision.

It was Levinson who wrote the 1993 court opinion that said if the state wanted to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, it had to show a "compelling reason" for violating the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. He now sits on the board of Equality Hawaii, one of the key groups seeking gay-marriage rights.

"With the results of the election now in, there is a clear indication that the country as well as Hawaii is still moving on this issue, but the winds have definitely changed in our favor," said Donald Bentz, Equality Hawaii's executive director. "It is no longer a question of if gay marriage comes to Hawaii but a question of when. And we are exploring all options and having all necessary conversations with the appropriate stakeholders to determine when the appropriate time is going to be."

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