Looking back at Hawaii’s role in same sex marriage

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — This is the final week of pride month.

It is a time to celebrate the history and accomplishments from the LGBTQ community.

Part of this history includes Hawaii where same-sex couples played a major role on the road to legalize same-sex marriage in the country.

It was like any other love story. Genora Dancel and Ninia Baehr got engaged just months after meeting.

Dancel says she knew Baehr was the one from the start.

“In September I asked her to marry me over the phone,” said Dancel. “I was in San Jose taking a class. I was at George Washington taking a class. I bought the ring in D.C. at George Washington so I called her, and I said ‘Would you marry me?” She said ‘Yes,’ and I was like oh that was easy.”

Getting engaged was easy.

Trying to get married was anything but easy.

On Dec. 17, 1990, three same sex couples, gathered by Bill Woods an LGBTQ activist, marched to the Hawaii Department of Jealth to request a marriage license.

At the time nowhere in the country allowed same sex couples to marry.

“I wasn’t nervous or anything because I knew I wanted to marry this person,” said Dancel. “If I had to go through whatever lengths I have to to get my license, so be it.”

A long legal battle followed.

A complaint filed to the hawaii circuit court was initially dismissed.

A first of its kind appeal’s decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court polarized the country.

“When the case came down the pike it was not lost on me that this was the big one,” said retired Justice Steven Levinson. “I mean I was never going to see another appeal that had the potential significance that this one did.”

Retired Justice Steven Levinson sat on the bench during the Baehr v. Lewin appeal says Hawaii was being asked to do something no other sovereign nation had done before.

“The state had failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in the sex discrimination,” said Levinson. “Therefore the marriage laws denying the plaintiffs denying equal access to marriage were unconstitutional.”

The case went back to the circuit court.

This was not the end of the battle.

This decision prompted the U.S. Congress to adopt the Defense of Marriage Act.

It defined marriage to be between a man and a woman.

In 1998 Hawaii voters favored an amendment to the state constitution to grant the legislature the power to prevent same sex marriage.

It wouldn’t be until 2013, when then Governor Neil Abercrombie would call for a special session in the legislature.

Same sex marriage would once again have a chance.

By that December, Hawaii became the 15th state in the nation to recognize same sex marriage.

By then Dancel had met Katherine Dennis and married soon after.

The ceremony performed by her former lawyer Dan Foley was an Associate Judge at the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals at the time.

“You cannot discriminate anymore,” said Dancel. “I mean people will come up with all kinds of things to discriminate against you but having that freedom and fighting for that freedom it’s just wonderful when it all happens.”

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled all states to recognize same sex marriages.

This monumental decision standing on the shoulders of three couples in love from Hawaii.

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