Civil unions bill deserves decision now


POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010
This story has been corrected. See below.


Legislation that would grant gay and lesbian couples all rights, state benefits and protections given to married couples has gained state Senate approval but could be allowed to die without a House vote. House Speaker Calvin Say has indicated that he will block consideration unless he feels support could overcome a veto, which has not been threatened. The bill deserves a decision.

Previous legislatures granted same-sex couples various rights in Hawaii. The Legislature approved a ban on gay marriages in 1997 and voters ratified the decision through a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers the authority to have done so. Since then, various states have granted gay marriages and civil unions as attitudes have changed.

By a vote of 18-7, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill last week that would extend all rights to gay couples legally licensed in civil unions that are given to married couples. The House approved a similar bill last year with 33 of its 51 members voting in favor and a single representative absent.

Thirty-four votes are needed to overcome a veto, and Say claims that support may have dwindled to 31. He has not revealed those who have changed their minds during an election year; voters should know.

Asked about the issue, Lingle has said, “;My thought is they should not discuss it. I don't want to discuss it. I want to discuss job creation.”; That ambiguity falls far short of a veto threat and could mean that she would let it become law without her signature.

The issue could be important in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has indicated he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor, joined a rally of thousands against the civil-union legislation at the state Capitol early last week, declaring, “;I believe in the sanctity of marriage.”;

In 2004, Democratic U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, now running for governor, voted against a failed constitutional amendment that would have required that “;marriage or the legal incidents thereof”; be between a man and a woman. Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona, the Republican frontrunner for governor, has spoken unequivocally against the civil-unions bill before the Legislature.

Gay marriages are recognized in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. Enactment of the bill would put Hawaii on the same level with New Jersey, where same-sex couples have all the rights and benefits of marriage, while California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington extend most marital rights to same-sex partners.

Those states have recognized the shift in attitudes, reflected in a national poll last year showing that 62 percent of Americans believe gay couples should be allowed to marry or enter into civil unions. The time has come for Hawaii's lawmakers to take action in the same direction.





        » An earlier version included Maine among the states that have legalized same-sex marriages. Maine voters overturned that law in November's election.