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The history of same-sex marriage in Hawaiʻi and its impact on LGBTQ+ rights


Three decades ago, activists in Hawaiʻi stepped onto the global stage to lead the conversation about same-sex marriage.

"In May of 1993, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court became the first court anywhere on earth to rule that the fundamental right to marriage could extend to same-sex couples. And as a result of that, the first real political conflict over same-sex marriage took place in Hawaiʻi in the 1990s," said Sasha Issenberg, author of "The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage."

"Nobody planned for this to be the sort of defining fight over LGBT rights of the last generation," Issenberg said. "But marriage emerged, in large part because of what had happened in Hawaiʻi."

Same-sex marriage was legalized and banned in municipalities around the globe and in U.S. states for the next two decades. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalizing it across the country.

For many people, marriage equality is still the defining feature of the LGBTQ movement. But does that capture the contemporary concerns of the community?

Ian Tapu is a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law graduate and is on the board of directors for the Hawaiʻi LGBT Legacy Foundation, which organizes Honolulu's pride events.

He said Hawaiʻi has had a very progressive judiciary and community that helped put the Islands at the forefront of LGBT movements.

"I feel like what has happened in the same-sex marriage arena has really catapulted us in ways that were trying to affirm others, not just gay marriage," Tapu said. "Hawaiʻi has the highest percentage, of population-wise, of transgender individuals. And so I think really moving forward, I oftentimes people think of queer movements as only being about same-sex marriage. But there are so many other issues. And that includes advocacy in the health sphere, that includes advocacy for our youth. And that especially includes advocacy for our transgender folks."

The Hawaiʻi LGBT Legacy Foundation's town hall meeting is tonight at 6 p.m. More information can be found at honolulupride.com/rainbow-town-hall

This segment originally aired on The Conversation on Oct. 21, 2021.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast.
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