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Same-sex marriage tops Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s legacy

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, center, poses with legislators and supporters after signing a bill on Nov.  13, 2013, legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, center, poses with legislators and supporters after signing a bill on Nov. 13, 2013, legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Craig T. Kojima, Honolulu Star-Advertiser (AP)

HONOLULU — It was a decision that Gov. Neil Abercrombie said may have cost him re-election, but one that he stood by as a proud legacy that will live on long after he leaves the state’s highest office.

Under Abercrombie’s tenure as governor, Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage, and Abercrombie’s decision to call a special legislative session over the issue was widely seen as the reason nearly 3,000 same-sex couples were able to wed in the Aloha state in the past year.

 In one of his last appearances as governor, Abercrombie, donned with a lei, accepted an award from Equality Hawaii for his service to the island state’s LGBT community, and showed his fiery side as he delivered an impassioned speech at the gala.

“I know that as a result of the signing of that SB1, lives have been changed forever, and I’m proud and pleased to be part of it,” Abercrombie shouted as the crowd cheered. “What we have to do is encourage that and support that and not take it for granted, and be on the offense no matter what takes place.”

In his speech, Abercrombie credited civil rights leaders who paved the way for the historic legislation, giving more credit to their work than his own.

“With every breath I take until my last day on Earth, I’m going to be committed to the common humanity that’s represented in this room tonight … I’m looking forward to the opportunity for more trail blazers to come,” Abercrombie said.

The moment brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd, said Todd Simmons, executive director of Equality Hawaii.

“Had he not have called the special session, we likely would not have marriage equality today,” Simmons said. “Had we waited until the regular legislative session, it may not have ever reached the floor, and if it had, it may not have ever passed, simply because of all the competing interests.”

“He knew that pushing the special session last fall was going to be unpopular in some quarters, but he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do,” Simmons said.

The breakthrough on gay marriage that Abercrombie championed goes beyond the couples that have since wed. It has paved the way for activists to begin working on issues like preventing bullying in schools, Simmons said.

Of the 2,907 same-sex marriages that took place in Hawaii since Dec. 2 last year, about half were for couples where at least one partner did not live in Hawaii, making the state a wedding destination for more than just heterosexual couples, Simmons said.

“He not only has touched the lives of a great many people like myself and my husband and our kids, but he took an action that is going to be good for the long-term economic health of the state,” Simmons said.

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