Across the U.S., the entire spectrum of legal recognition for same-sex couples is represented: some states recognize marriage for same-sex couples; others provide some alternative arrangements which provide some or all of the rights associated with marriage while going by a different name. However, the majority of states do not have any formal recognition for same-sex unions.
Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationships in Hawaii
In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii found that the state’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was unconstitutional, representing the first ruling of its kind in the United States. However, shortly after this court ruling, Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.
Beginning in 1997, Hawaii began offering reciprocal beneficiary relationships, which provide some, but not all, of the protections of marriage. They are available to any two people who would be prohibited from marrying under Hawaiian law, including same-sex couples.
Registering for such an arrangement entitles the partners to some of the benefits of marriage, including suing for the wrongful death of one partner, hospital visitation, healthcare decision-making, inheritance rights, health insurance and pension benefits for state employees, and the right to jointly own property as “tenants by the entirety”, among a few others.
To register for a reciprocal beneficiary relationship in Hawaii, the partners must be over the age of 18, must not be married or in another reciprocal beneficiary relationship with anyone else, and must be legally prohibited from marrying each other.
Federal law currently does not recognize same-sex unions, even if they are valid and recognized in a given state.
This fact means that same-sex couples who are married, or in some other official arrangement, under the laws of their state are treated as if they were single by the federal government.
Furthermore, entering any officially-recognized same-sex union can trigger the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and result in a less-than-honorable discharge from the armed forces, or prevent one from enlisting in the first place.
Should I Get an Attorney?
Because of the limited rights offered by Hawaii’s system, and the confusing patchwork of conflicting state and federal laws surrounding same-sex legal unions, it would probably be in your interest to contact a reputable family law attorney in Hawaii, if you have any questions on this matter.