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Hawaiian judge upholds same-sex marriages

December 3, 1996
Web posted at: 5:50 p.m. EST

HONOLULU (CNN) -- A Hawaiian state court upheld the right of same-sex couples to be legally wed Tuesday, five years after a gay couple first filed suit against Hawaii for denying them a marriage license.

The ruling makes Hawaii the first state to recognize that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to the same privileges as heterosexual married couples.

In his ruling, Judge Kevin Chang found that the Hawaiian state government had failed to establish a "compelling state interest" to justify the prohibition against same-sex marriages, said Dan Foley, a lawyer for three same-sex couples who sued the state in a landmark case.

Joe Melillo and Patrick Lagon joined two lesbian couples in filing suit against Hawaii in 1991. All three couples were denied marriage licenses by the state. They say that the state's refusal to let them marry amounts to gender discrimination, violating the state constitution's Equal Rights Amendment.

A trial court ruled against the group, but the couples appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in 1993 overturned the trial court's ruling.

Court observers had expected Chang to find in favor of the couples. However, the case is far from over since both sides promised to appeal if the verdict was against them.

The case has been closely watched, as it could set a landmark precedent throughout the United States. However, as Hawaii has battled this issue out in court, 37 states have taken up efforts to outlaw same-sex marriages, and 16 have actually passed laws banning such marriages.

Congress also got in the act, passing the Defense of Marriage Act in September, just one day before the latest trial in the Hawaii case began. The measure would not bar states from legalizing same-sex marriages, but states would not be obligated to recognize such marriages performed in another state.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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