The Rights of Same-Gender Couples in the State of Hawai>i
as "reciprocal beneficiaries"



    In 1995 in Hawai>i, for the first time in the world, a legislative or parliamentary commission, after careful study of the matter, recommended that full governmental marriage rights be made available to same-gender couples. That commission had been established by the Hawai>i Legislature, and while that Legislature did not act on full rights, it did pass a remarkable law in 1997 which extended a great number of rights and benefits to same-gender couples. The couples are called Areciprocal beneficiaries@ and the 1997 law is known informally as the Reciprocal Beneficiary Act. Additional laws granting further rights and benefits were then passed in 1999, and it appears that more will be added as time goes on.

    The 1995 commission had categorized governmental marriage rights into three groups:

    The rights in this summary are broken down in the general order that the 1995 commission used.

    While this summary provides brief explanations of the various rights and benefits, a longer version, providing synopses (summaries) of all the various laws, is available at _____________. Likewise, a very long version, which contains the full text of all these laws, is available at ____________.

    In this summary the term Apublic workers@ usually means workers of both the State and the four counties (City & County of Honolulu, Hawai>i-Big Island, Kaua>i, and Maui).

    The 1997 package of laws provided substantially similar government rights, in the areas covered by those laws, to same-gender couples. In those areas of benefits and the law which are listed here, therefore, the rights are the same for couples and spouses, whether same-gender or different-gender, as long as their relationships are certified by the government with a marriage or a reciprocal-beneficiary certificate. Equal rights extend to their families (for the first time, these laws have had the effect of legally recognizing same-gender couple=s 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 listed here.

Intangible Benefits

    These are emotionally important rights. They can also, under certain circumstances (such as a jury award), be of great economic value.

    And now, in the area of the law, at least in Hawai>i, Afamily@ includes families led by couples whether same-gender or different-gender.

    The Hawai>i legislative staff correctly summarized the 1997 law which extended rights to same-gender couples: AIn establishing the status of reciprocal beneficiaries, the Act provides certain rights and benefits, and represents a commitment to provide substantially similar government rights to those couples who are barred by law from marriage.@

    In those areas of the law which are reviewed here, the rights of same-gender couples and spouses are essentially the same as different-gender couples.

    With this measure of equality comes the priceless but intangible benefit of recognition.

Substantial Benefits

    Spousal- and Dependent-Support Benefits.

    Here the law requires one spouse to support the other. The benefit is to the other spouse.


Health Insurance Benefits.


Other Insurance Benefits.


Government and Private Retirement Benefits.


Private Workers= Compensation Benefits.


Wrongful Death Benefits.


Savings in ACreating the Relationship.@

Estate Taxes and Related Matters.


ATenancy by the Entirety@ Benefits.


General Benefits

    These are a relatively large number of rights that are of limited economic value when applied singly to the couple, but when grouped together may add up to a major benefit.

    As one of many possible examples, one of these rights is when a public employee dies and payment is made for any vacation time that may have been saved up but not used. The payment goes to whoever the employee had named. In many cases, however, no eligible person had been named. In that case the payment goes to the worker=s spouse whether same-gender or different-gender.