HONOLULU - A federal judge ruled Wednesday against two Hawaii women who want to get married instead of enter into a civil union, handing a victory to opponents of gay marriage in a state that's been at the forefront of the issue.
U.S. District Court Judge Alan C. Kay's ruling sides with Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy and Hawaii Family Forum, a Christian group that was allowed to intervene in the case.
"Accordingly, Hawaii's marriage laws are not unconstitutional," the ruling states. "Nationwide, citizens are engaged in a robust debate over this divisive social issue. If the traditional institution of marriage is to be reconstructed, as sought by the plaintiffs, it should be done by a democratically elected legislature or the people through a constitutional amendment," and not through the courts.
The lawsuit by Natasha Jackson and Janin Kleid argues that they need to be married in order to get certain federal benefits. Co-plaintiff Gary Bradley wants to marry his foreign national partner to help him change his immigration status. Their attorney, John D'Amato, said they will appeal.
"The ruling affirms that protecting and strengthening marriage as the union of one man and one woman is legitimate, reasonable and good for society," said Dale Schowengerdt, an attorney representing Hawaii Family Forum.
The case put Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the unusual position of both being a defendant in the lawsuit while supporting the plaintiffs' claims, saying a same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Wednesday's ruling also denied Hawaii Family Forum's motion to dismiss Abercrombie as defendant. The group argued that Abercrombie has no place on either side of the lawsuit, partly because he is not the state official in charge of issuing marriage licenses. Abercrombie signed Hawaii's civil union legislation into law last year, allowing same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil union with the same state rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.
Abercrombie said in a statement that he disagreed with the ruling and would join with the couples if they decide to appeal.
"To refuse individuals the right to marry on the basis of sexual orientation or gender is discrimination in light of our civil unions law," he said. "For me, this is about fairness and equality."
Two legal teams from the state attorney general's office were on opposite sides of the courtroom - representing Fuddy and Abercrombie. James Walther, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said both teams will be reviewing the decision.