Love Makes A Family
legal rights of same-gender couples in Hawai'i
that are available under the "reciprocal beneficiary" status
Same-gender couples and their families have stood witness to
the proposition that love can conquer bigotry. In Hawai'i their peaceful
struggle has brought some very real successes, with more to come.
In 1997 Hawai'i adopted a body of legislation granting equal
rights to same-gender couples and their families in most areas of the law.
Additional rights have been granted since then, and more are expected in the
For the first time, these laws have had the effect of legally
recognizing same-gender families, including in-laws. Where the rights of
same-gender and different-gender couples, spouses, and families in Hawai'i
still differ is in other laws not summarized here.
The first group of the new equal-rights laws are those
rights and benefits that are quite important but are generally intangible in value.
They are of great emotional value, and at times they also have economic value.
Examples of these benefits are the equal right with different-gender couples to
be able to visit your spouse in a hospital or make medical decisions when
Simply being recognized as a legal couple is perhaps the most important of
the new benefits in this
category. As the
Hawai'i legislative staff has written, the 1997 Act "provides
certain rights and benefits, and represents a commitment to provide
substantially similar government rights to those couples who are [still] barred
by law from marriage."
A second group of the new laws are those that carry
substantial tangible value. Some of the categories in this group
- Equal inheritance rights. The inheritance law
(known as the probate code) has traditionally granted top inheritance rights
to different-gender spouses. Now, in Hawai'i, those rights are equally given
to same-gender spouses.
- Couple and family health insurance must now
be offered with equal discounts to same-gender couples and their families.
Equal coverage also exists in some areas of the State-administered federal
Medicaid health program.
- Other limited insurance benefits exist, such as
discounts to public workers, their same-gender spouse and their family members, for
long-term-care insurance. Or discounts for a person's same-gender spouse and
their family members for some
types of insurance, and a general equality of benefits for same-gender
- General equality for many areas of retirement
benefits. Pension payments for surviving same-gender spouses of retired public
workers are now equal. Health and hospital benefits for retired public
workers and their same-gender spouses, including surviving spouses after the death of
the worker, are now equal. The same with death payments to spouse and family
when public workers die while still employed. The public-worker equal
rights also stand, in Hawai'i, as a leading example to the private sector to grant equal pension and
- Equality for private employees, their same-gender
spouses, and their families under the
Workers' Comp system of benefits paid for disabling accidents or death on
- Wrongful death lawsuits. In
addition to any criminal action taken by the government against those
responsible for a person's death, a surviving different-gender spouse has always had a
special right to sue the guilty parties and attempt to make them pay for the
loss of their loved one. Now this right is granted equally to same-gender spouses.
- Savings in "Creating the Relationship."
Same-gender couples used to have to spend thousands of dollars on legal
bills attempting to create documents and agreements between themselves that partially recreated the rights granted for free to
different-gender couples. Most of those costs have now been eliminated
through the equalization of so many rights.
- Estate ("death") taxes and related
matters. Traditionally these laws have discriminated against same-gender
spouses. Through amendments to the inheritance laws, above, it appears that
this discrimination has been eased a bit, although full equality still has
to be passed.
- "Tenancy by the entirety" is one of
several ways that a couple is allowed to own property. It allows special
real estate tax, and other benefits. Traditionally open only to different-gender
couples in a small number of states, including Hawai'i, now this system has been opened to same-gender
couples in Hawai'i. Remarkably, same-gender couples in Hawai'i
therefore now have these specific rights that are in excess of the rights
granted to different-gender couples from states not allowing for
"tenancy by the entirety."
A third and final group of the new laws are those that grant rights of a more general nature. These laws
involve a large number of rights that are of limited economic value when applied singly to
a same-gender couple, but when grouped together add up to a major benefit.
For example, one of these rights is that if a public employee dies,
then payment is made for any vacation time that may have
been saved up but not used. The payment goes to whomever the employee had named.
In many cases, however, no eligible person had been named. In those cases, the
payment goes to the worker's spouse. The law now grants this right equally to
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