Amidst a celebration of supporters at the Honolulu Convention Center, Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriages in the state of Hawai'i. With his signature on Senate Bill 1, House Draft 1, the "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013," Hawai'i has become the 15th state to legally recognize same-sex marriages.
"Today is a great day in Hawai'i nei," announced state Attorney General David Louie, who served as the event's emcee, and described the day as a celebration "for all".
The festivities started with a traditional Native Hawaiian ‘oli welcoming all the invited guests – over 200 of whom gathered to witness Governor Abercrombie sign the landmark legislation.
Audience members were delighted when Amy Hanaiali'i and Willie K reunited for the first time in ten years to sing a mash-up rendition of "Imagine" by John Lennon and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Their performance was answered with calls of "Hana hou" from the crowd, but Louie kept the schedule on track.
"They say that justice delayed is justice denied and for almost 20 years justice has been delayed and denied for our gay brothers and sisters who wanted to get married, but no longer," Louie said, before introducing Senator Clayton Hee.
Senator Hee, who serves at the Senate's Judiciary committee Chair, stepped up to the podium joking about how he might have to use his tie to wipe away tears. He was forced to stop for a moment, overcome with emotion and audience members filled the brief void with applause.
"Someday, as the song ‘Imagine' depicted and says to us, this world will accept all of us for who we are and I'm pleased to play a very small role with my colleagues in the Senate," Sen. Hee said.
"I could never have imagined that I would play a role in such a profound, yet in my mind a really simple thing to do – bring justice and equality to all of us," said Hee, before hugging Governor Abercrombie and returning to his seat.
Representative Chris Lee, who was invited to speak on behalf of the Hawai'i House of Representatives and who has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage from the beginning, then stepped up to the microphone.
"We all deserve the same aloha. People criticize the timing but it is never the wrong time to do the right thing," Rep. Lee said as the crowd cheered.
"Out of this debate there are no winners or losers, but there is benefit to us all because through this difficult time we have grown to understand one another better and put ourselves in the shoes of others, and I think that's what brings our community together because at the end we are one ‘ohana. We are one family and if we're going to overcome our greater challenges down the road we're going to need to join hands and come together," Lee said, describing the hope many have expressed about the need to heal after such a divisive issue.
Governor Abercrombie began his remarks by introducing his wife and thanking her for her support.
"It never, ever occurred to me that I would one day have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something that is profound, is as profound in the change that is to come," said Gov. Abercrombie, likening this moment to that of Patsy Mink and Title 9 changing "the universe for women for all time".
The Governor says in preparing his remarks for today, he reflected on the word aloha and the aloha spirit – which are both mentioned in Hawai'i's Constitution. He went on to read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution saying, "I submit to you that SB 1 is the epitome of the First Amendment in action."
Gov. Abercrombie thanked Hawai'i's Senators and Representatives for their "patient perseverance", saying he felt the Legislature coordinated civic responsibility with the religious beliefs of others.
"I just read the First Amendment to the Constitution. We couldn't even pass the Constitution originally without putting ten amendments in, so it does not strike me as strange that we may not have a perfect vehicle here today, but we understand that this is in fact the result of the legislative process which had as its fundamental premise, fidelity to support for upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Hawai'i," Gov. Abercrombie said.
Governor Abercrombie then went on to describe the legacy of aloha left by Hawai'i's Queen Lili'uokalani.
"If we could but see our likenesses, could we not learn to be tolerant of our differences? That's the Queen's admonition to us. I think that SB 1 satisfies the Queen's desire – that we look to see our likenesses with one another and not our differences," the Governor said.
In closing, the Governor read a few words given to him by a woman he described as a dear family friend, who "has had to be hidden for all of her life in her heart, feeling that she was marginalized and shut away".
"I have spent my entire life waiting for equality to be visible in the world I live in to be a part of the whole of this courageous, colorful, inspirational, endlessly talented, brilliant like a star community," said Gov. Abercrombie reading from the woman's note to him. His voice cracked as he looked up and said, "Finally today, now – all those who have been invisible will be visible to themselves and the whole world."
With that he picked up the koa pen he has promised to give to retired Justice Steven Levinson, who in 1993 wrote the landmark Baehr v. Lewin decision that denying same-sex couples marriage licenses was a violation of equal protection.
"Done!" the Governor exclaimed after scrawling out his signature as the crowd erupted in applause.
The first day same sex couples can get married in Hawaii is December 2, 2013
Tune in to Hawaii News Now tonight for reaction from lawmakers and supporters following the signing of the bill.
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