More are accepting of civil unions


POSTED: Saturday, May 09, 2009

Two votes taken by the state Senate on Thursday left unclear whether a majority favors civil unions for same-sex couples, but the national trend indicates that acceptance of such families will grow. Legislators should approve gay civil unions next year.

Advocates of the bill to legalize civil unions gathered 10 votes — nine was needed — to pull the measure to the Senate floor from a divided committee. The 16-9 approval of an amendment combined supporters mindful of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling and a New Jersey commission's findings that those states' civil-union laws didn't go far enough, and opponents knowing that any change in the bill would effectively kill it for this legislative session.

Marriage rights for homosexual couples has made significant strides in other states. Legislators in New Hampshire and Maine voted this week to join Massachusetts in favor of allowing gay marriages. Maine Gov. John Baldecci signed it into law. If New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, also a Democrat, does the same, Rhode Island will be left as the only New England state restricting marriages to heterosexuals.

Meanwhile, Iowa's Supreme Court has legalized gay marriages and California's high court has yet to rule whether it is illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples, despite a state constitutional ban approved by voters last year. New York Gov. David Paterson has introduced state legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

In 1998, nearly 70 percent of Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment affirming the Legislature's restriction against same-sex marriages, but national attitudes have changed significantly in the past decade and are likely to continue doing so. In 1977, 43 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said they opposed legalizing gay marriages, but that grew to 55 percent in 1982. A Gallup poll in 1982 showed that 34 percent considered homosexuality as an acceptable alternative life style, but 57 percent now regard it as acceptable.

More revealing is a recent Newsweek poll showing that gay marriage is supported by 66 percent of adults under age 30, but only 48 percent of those ages 30 to 64 and a mere 28 percent among senior citizens.

Hawaii legislators who rely on the 1998 vote to determine their constituents' views fail to recognize that change of opinion, perhaps not individually but by generation.

Still, Michael Golojuch of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is pessimistic about whether legislators will “;dare touch it in an election year.”; If he is right, it will be because they fail to recognize that public opinion on the issue has changed and will keep changing in the same direction.