Marriage, Hawaiian Style



COVER 726 XLRG | ADVOCATE.COMWith last year’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages, along with similar legislation in 16 states, the road looks to be largely confined to the islands, at least for the time being. The December ruling prompted a year-end flurry of anti–gay-marriage rhetoric in various statehouses, with Colorado, Indiana, and Nebraska as likely locations for the introduction of antimarriage bills in upcoming legislative sessions. Only Massachusetts governor William Weld has indicated that he would be willing to recognize gay marriages performed in Hawaii.

Right now the laws banning gay marriage are largely theoretical. But if, as Foley predicts, Hawaii starts issuing licenses to same-sex couples, legal activists say these laws, including DOMA, will inevitably be challenged by mainland couples who marry in Hawaii and then return home. The result would be a morass of lawsuits wending their way through the courts into the next century.

In Hawaii, meanwhile, activists are still giddy from their recent victory. “It was wonderful to be in Hawaii that day,” says Ku’umeaaloha Gomes, a member of Na Mamo O Hawai’i, a group of native Hawaiians who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual and who advocate Hawaiian sovereignty. “We were part of history in the making, and we felt so proud.”

“There is just no question that this decision was enormous, immense, and wonderful,” says Evan Wolfson, senior staff attorney at the gay group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is cocounsel in the case. “It’s a powerful statement about the truth of our lives.”

For the couples involved, the ruling was especially sweet, since the suit seemed quixotic at best when it was filed six years ago. “When the decision came from the judge, it was our ninth anniversary,” says Pregil. “We were really happy. We didn’t think it would be this long and this big.”

Indeed, the success of the same-sex marriage cause over the past three years stands in sharp contrast to its origins. If ever a gay rights case seemed likely to fail, it was marriage. Even Foley admits that he hoped at best “to get some good language” in a ruling against him that he could put to use in other gay rights cases.

The Hawaii marriage case dates back to 1990, when Bill Woods, a local activist, tried to organize a mass commitment ceremony for Hawaii’s first gay pride parade. “He was supposed to get twenty couples together,” says Melillo. “But nobody wanted to do it publicly. So then Bill asked whether Pat and I wanted to get married legally, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”