Before approving House Bill 444, supporters at the Legislature did their homework. Among other things, they compiled two key documents that detail what civil unions would mean to couples and to the state.

One document provided by Democratic Sen. Les Ihara, one of the bill’s sponsors, is a list that details 71 benefits, responsibilities and obligations that would be required should civil unions become law, and the other document is a digest of 290 rights and obligations under existing state statutory provisions implicating civil unions.

The documents were vetted by legal experts (though county laws were not addressed), and they are meant to be used together. Both documents cite the specific Hawaii Revised Statute that applies to a particular issue — for example, what the law says about allowing a spouse to take unpaid family leave from work each year to care for a sick spouse or family member.

The list also includes a digest reference number that refers directly to the digest document. In the case of the leave requirements noted above, digest reference No. 145 explains in more detail what the law says: “An employee shall be entitled to a total of four weeks of family leave during any calendar year upon the birth of a child of the employee or the adoption of a child, or to care for the employee’s child, spouse or reciprocal beneficiary, or parent with a serious health condition.”

The most significant rights and benefits include allowing partners in civil unions to receive medical insurance through a government employee spouse’s health benefits plan, to file a joint state income tax return to receive a lower tax rate, to receive their partner’s available pension and retirement benefits, and to have a spouse receive protection from Family Court to dissolve civil unions and obtain orders to protect themselves, their children, and their assets.

The rights and obligations digest covers a broad range of categories including health, social services, the courts, child custody and adoption, employment, inheritance, property ownership and transfer, business and insurance, veterans, the penal code, housing programs, and Native Hawaiian rights.

Two examples of rights and obligations:

  • Family members are allowed to visit an inmate at any correctional facility during official visiting hours. Defines “family members” as person who are related to each other by blood, marriage, adoption, or legal guardianship, or as reciprocal beneficiaries.

  • Family courts have jurisdiction to make equitable divisions of property upon dissolution of marriage.

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