This week Hawaii officially became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage, thanks to the hard work of local progressives as well as Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called the special legislative session that eventually led to the law. And Hawaii will enjoy an additional bonus besides being on the right side of history—its $14 billion tourism industry will likely boost upwards of another $217 million because of gay marriage alone, according to researchers.
The same sex marriage battle is actually often credited to the Aloha state, which helped spark the first national discussion on the issue more than two decades ago when a denied a marriage license to a gay couple led to a court fight that eventually pushed Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
While Hawaii’s same sex marriage law certainly wasn’t adopted without a struggle (there is a small but vocal religious and conservative community), the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature was bound to join the movement sooner rather than later.
Hawaii has always appealed to the open-minded and forward-looking—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Hawaii House of Representatives First Special Session in 1959, remarking on the state’s harmony and justice in racial relations at a time when the rest of the country was still mired in segregation. Soon afterwards, inspired by his trip to Hawaii, he and other civil rights leaders wore leis during their march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.
Hawaii’s soft power consists of so much more than surfing, bikinis, and coconuts (I suppose one could say the same thing about California as well, minus the coconuts). Of course these concepts are easy to market and are on the tips of everyone’s tongues when we think of these islands but, really, they are based on generalities that would lack the same attraction if it weren’t for the underlying foundation of the state’s historical and inherent progressiveness.
As we witness more and more states join in on the logic of human rights for all citizens, we owe a special thanks to the past generations of Hawaiians who in essence paved the way for the issues we still face today.