Prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal in the United States, Hawaii developed two separate alternatives for same-sex couples: reciprocal beneficiary relationships and civil unions. Despite same-sex marriage now being legal in Hawaii, both arrangements are still available as alternatives to marriage.

Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationships in Hawaii

In 1997, Hawaii began offering reciprocal beneficiary relationships. These were designed in response to the constitutional concerns raised by marriage inequality for same-sex couples in the state. To register for a reciprocal beneficiary relationship in Hawaii, partners must be:

  • Over the age of 18
  • Unmarried and not in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship
  • Legally prohibited from marrying each other
  • Consenting to the relationship without force, duress, or fraud
  • Willing to sign a declaration of a reciprocal beneficiary relationship

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Hawaii and the rest of the United States, this law may still help those who are relatives by blood or marriage and seek a legal relationship. Registering for such an arrangement entitles the partners to some of the benefits of marriage, including:

  • The ability to sue for the wrongful death of one partner
  • Hospital visitation
  • Healthcare decision-making
  • Inheritance rights
  • Health insurance and pension benefits for state employees
  • The right to jointly own property as “tenants by the entirety”

Civil Unions in Hawaii

Civil unions have been available for same-sex and opposite-sex couples since 2012. Couples must apply for a civil union license, appear before a civil union agent to receive a license, and then have a civil union performed by a licensed civil union officiant. In order to be eligible for a civil union, partners must be:

  • Over 18 years of age
  • Unmarried and not in any other civil union or domestic partnership
  • Unrelated as parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, siblings, aunt/uncle and nephew/niece, or as persons who stand in relation to each other as ancestor and descendant to any degree whatsoever

Individuals in civil unions in Hawaii have most of the same rights and responsibilities that married couples have. Unlike married couples, however, they may not receive certain federal benefits associated with marriage or have their union recognized in other U.S. states or countries.

The Effect of Same-Sex Marriage on Domestic Partners and Reciprocal Beneficiaries

On December 2, 2013, Hawaii officially extended legal status to same-sex marriages. As of 2015, same-sex marriage is legal in the United States. Same-sex partners are no longer eligible to become reciprocal beneficiaries because they are allowed to marry under Hawaii law. On the other hand, all couples can choose between a civil union and a marriage.

Should I Consult with an Attorney?

Forming a civil union with someone is a major commitment, both socially and legally. Thus, it is a decision that is not to be made lightly. If you are in the process of choosing whether to marry or to form a civil union, or if you have questions about the rights and responsibilities that go along with marriage alternatives, you may wish to contact a Hawaii attorney.