Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 14, 2013

Hawaii has become the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage after Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the state's gay rights measure into law on November 13. The Hawaii Senate had passed the same-sex marriage bill the previous day by a 19-4 margin. Weddings in the Aloha State may begin on December 2, when the law takes effect.

Illinois will soon join Hawaii with a same-sex measure of its own. The state passed legislation last week that Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign on November 20. In his statement, Quinn said, "Marriage equality is coming to Illinois." That measure will become effective on June 1, 2014.

Employers in Hawaii and Illinois will have to examine whether their benefit plans and procedures need to be updated to address benefit eligibility of same-sex spouses. Both states had previously offered civil unions to same-sex couples but had limited marriage to one man and one woman.

The trend since the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, 2013 U.S. LEXIS 4921 (June 27, 2013), which struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unmistakable. Since July 1, four other states have legalized same-sex marriage, including Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Also, a number of federal agencies have extended marital benefits to same-sex couples who are lawfully married.

The other states to recognize same-sex marriage are:

  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • Iowa;
  • Maine;
  • Maryland;
  • Massachusetts;
  • New Hampshire;
  • New York;
  • Vermont; and
  • Washington.

Same-sex marriage also is recognized in Washington, D.C.

Public opinion on the issue has shifted noticeably in recent years. For instance, a 2013 Gallup poll found 53 percent of Americans now approve of same-sex marriages. Just three years ago, 44 percent thought such marriages should be legal while in 1996, the approval rate was only 27 percent, according to Gallup.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which recently passed the US Senate by a 64-32 vote, would make it illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against someone because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. President Obama has voiced his support of the legislation, but it appears unlikely to pass the House.