Many times, legislation, no matter how well-intentioned, has consequences far beyond the original intent. The proposed same-sex law definitely has several unintended consequences. Other writers have addressed the attempt to abrogate the free exercise of religion by reclassifying churches as the public accommodations.
The proposed law is innovative in that it allows for instant divorce of same-sex couples who live out of state. This is limited to those living in states which do not recognize same-sex marriage, which currently means about two-thirds of the states.
Hawaii residents, of course, will have to live in Hawaii six months before getting a divorce. On the surface, this exemption, which it seems no other state offers, sounds fair … except for the highly unequal treatment of the rest of us.
But there is an additional catch, which shows up when we do the math. Many “experts” claim we’ll see at least 15,000 same-sex marriage tourist couples annually. At least two-thirds of these folks (10,000 per year), and probably more, will be from states which do not recognize same-sex marriage (If their home state allows it, they would likely marry there).
We know that, statistically, gay marriages break up slightly more often than heterosexual marriages. Lesbian marriages fail at a rate almost twice that of gay marriages. But if we take even the conservative estimate, we know roughly one-half of heterosexual marriages will eventually break up. For every 10 marriages, there will be five divorces. For the 10,000 “foreign state” marriages, we must plan to process at least 5,000 additional divorces every year. You may well ask what the cost will be, since the divorcing couples will pay their own family law attorneys. The cost to the taxpayer will be the additional courts. If a court can finalize five divorces per day, a single court can clear 1,250 cases per year.
Five per day is conservative … since there will often be complex out-of-state custody and property issues.
There is an additional complication of compliance. Will courts in Alabama or Utah recognize and enforce a Hawaii court custody decision in a same- sex marriage case?
Doing the math, we find we’ll need, at a very conservative estimate, a full four new courts … with judges, court clerks, bailiffs, recorders, etc. My very conservative estimate is that each basic full-time family court will cost at least a half million dollars per year. We’ll need courtrooms, waiting rooms, conference rooms … all of which will cost money to build and maintain. If they are in a new location, we’ll need to supply security, metal detectors, etc. I’d recommend we put the new courts on the island of Molokai, which needs the economic boost.
Therefore, the Legislature must, before enacting same-sex marriage legislation, decide exactly how they intend to finance the new courts … and be absolutely be transparent of the anticipated costs of same-sex marriage in Hawaii. This is another can which should not be simply kicked down the road.
William Georgi is a resident of Eleele.