By Katherine Dean
Hawaii, California and Washington saw lots of action in the fight for gay marriage rights this week.
Late on Thursday, Hawaii’s state legislature passed House Bill 444 by a vote of 31-20. The bill, which was revived in the House on the final day of the legislative session, allows same-sex couples to enter into a civil union that provides the same spousal rights as traditional marriage. The decision to sign the bill into law now lies with Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who has until July 6 to either approve the bill or veto it.
Hawaii has long been a battleground state in the fight for gay marriage rights. In 1993, a Hawaii Supreme Court decision almost made Hawaii the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. In 1998, however, voters in the Aloha State approved a constitutional “defense of marriage” amendment. The amendment resulted in a law banning gay marriage but allowing civil unions.
Back on the mainland this past Wednesday, Judge Vaughn Walker set a tentative date of June 16 to hear closing arguments in California’s Prop 8 trial. The trial has been postponed while gay rights groups fought a court order to turn over internal documents to defendants. The groups have decided to comply with the order, and the trial, which will determine whether or not California’s 2008 ban on gay marriage is constitutional, can now move forward.
Finally, last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Doe v. Reed. The case originates in Washington state, where anti-marriage equality activists gathered 138,500 signatures on petitions to put Referendum 71 on that state’s ballot last year. The referendum challenged a law that previously enacted same-sex marriage rights. Though Washington voters ultimately rejected Referendum 71 and upheld spousal equality, during the campaign, gay rights activists asked the state for the names and addresses of the petitioners. Washington state law requires the release of the names, but a federal court denied the request agreeing with the petitioners that it would “violate their constitutional rights to engage in anonymous political speech” and would subject them to harassment. The Supreme Court is now considering whether or not signing a petition is protected as private under the First Amendment.
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