UPDATED 12/30/11 5:06 p.m.
It’s all systems go for civil unions in Hawaii, according to a court order issued Friday afternoon.
The order was a relief for four couples who feared the new law allowing their legal unions on New Year’s Day might be put on hold before it even went into effect.
On Wednesday, the pastors of two churches filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order to block the new law. They argued that the law violates their civil rights because it does not exempt church facilities from hosting civil union ceremonies.
Federal Judge Michael Seabright, however, said their claim didn’t rise to the level that would merit immediate intervention by the court.
“In short, the present dispute — based upon the current record and allegations — is not justiciable such that Plaintiffs have not met their burden to authorize this court to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent Act 1 from taking effect on January 1, 2012,” he wrote in his 17-page court order, which he issued only hours after receiving all the arguments from the attorneys in the case.
UPDATE Seabright avoided getting into any of the Constitutionality concerns raised by the plaintiffs, citing a previous court decision: “‘When plaintiffs seek to establish standing to challenge a law or regulation that is not presently being enforced against them, they must demonstrate a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of the statute’s operation or enforcement.'”
The churches’ claims of a vague threat of possible litigation against them in the future does not satisfy the court’s requirements for jurisdiction, he wrote.
The executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission told Civil Beat that while churches may legally opt out of hosting all civil union ceremonies, they may not refuse to lease their facilities for only same-sex civil union ceremonies and celebrations.
“If a religious institution offers the use of facilities to general public for a fee (e.g., grounds, halls, catering services) for marriages and other celebrations, or owns, operates, or controls a commercial enterprise that rents out accommodations or facilities or sells goods or services, it cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” reads a document outlining the commission’s explanation of the issue e-mailed to Civil Beat by Bill Hoshijo. “For the operator of a place of public accommodation, there is no exception for discrimination based on sincerely held religious belief.
“So, under current law, if a person believes they have been discriminated against by being denied full and equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation (including the rental of a facility offered for rental to the public based on sexual orientation), they can call the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) at 586-8636, to find out how to file a complaint.”
The attorney for the churches, Shawn Luiz, said they will continue to pursue their case.
The state Department of Health will activate the civil-union online application process at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
At that time, says Tambry Young, a member of Citizens for Equal Rights, four same-sex couples will be gathered at a home in Aina Haina to have their union made official.
The ceremony is organized by many of the key groups that fought for passage of civil unions: Citizens for Equal Rights, the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party, Honolulu Pride, Integrity Hawaii, PFLAG Oahu, Pride Alliance Hawaii and Pride at Work Hawaii.
At the appointed hour, several officiants — they include the Reverend Kyle Ann Lovett of the Church of the Crossroads — will begin filling out the application necessary to perform ceremonies.
Simultaneously, on another computer, the couples — with the help of licensing agents — will fill out their own applications. The couples will be issued license numbers online.
The civil-union ceremony will follow, with the four couples gathered around a pool at the home.
“The ‘I do’s’ will happen at the same time,” said Young.
On Jan. 3, the first workday following the holiday, the DOH will check the paperwork and, if everything is in order, issue civil-union certificates electronically “within a matter of days,” said Dr. Alvin Onaka, DOH state registrar, in a press release Wednesday.
The certificates will be dated Jan. 1, 2012.