Lawmakers pass civil-unions bill


POSTED: Friday, April 30, 2010

In a dramatic last-minute reversal, the state Legislature sent Gov. Linda Lingle a bill legalizing civil unions between any two consenting adults.

House Bill 444, written at the urging of the gay community, allows any adult couple the same rights and benefits the state provides to those who marry.

If Lingle signs the measure, Hawaii would be one of six states giving all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples, but without calling it marriage. She has not indicated whether she will sign or veto it.

The House vote came yesterday evening after an afternoon spent in caucus and marked with procedural votes that showed supporters had a 31-vote majority with 20 opposed. Thirty-four votes are needed to override a veto.

When the final vote was tallied, again at 31-20, with two Republicans, Reps. Barbara Marumoto and Cynthia Thielen, joining the Democratic majority, the reaction from the packed House gallery was subdued. Supporters looked at each other; some cried.

Outside, they sang “;We Shall Overcome”; and hugged each other.

“;I watched unity happen; people stood strong supporting their principles. You saw Democrats and Republicans voting together and in opposition,”; said Debi Hartmann, Democratic Party executive director and a strong supporter of the bill.

;[Preview]  Legislature Passes Bill To Allow Civil Unions

A stunning change, as the Hawaii legislature votes 31- 20 to allow civil unions.


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;[Preview]  2 Express Their Joy On Civil Unions Bill

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Hartmann in 1998 had been part of a citizens group opposing same-sex marriage but said over the years she changed her views. “;I think the nation could take a lesson from what took place on the House floor,”; Hartmann said. “;This was democracy.”;

Island faith leaders reacted to the bill's passage with jubilation or dismay, reflecting conflicting religious beliefs that have heated political dialogue on gay rights for decades.

The Rev. Marc Alexander, vicar general of the Catholic diocese, said, “;We are disappointed, and we hope and pray the governor will veto the bill, both because of the content—which is marriage in disguise—and because it is poor legislation.”;

The Rev. John Heidel, president of the Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii, said, “;We have a great sense of relief and happiness for all of those people in our community who, in the past, have been denied their civil rights and who can now enjoy full benefits of citizenship.”;

Both men are old hands in the political arena from past years of debate on same-gender issues.

Buddhist Bishop Thomas Okano was a new voice just heard this week. Legislators were told Monday by letter that Honpa Hongwanji, the largest Buddhist denomination in Hawaii with 39 temples statewide, supported the bill and the concept of same-gender unions at a convention in February.

Okano said he is happy the bill was passed. “;Buddhist teaching emphasizes the importance of equality among all beings.”;

Catholic Bishop Larry Silva sent lawmakers a letter earlier commending them for not passing the bill and emphasizing the importance of marriage as a union between a man and a woman as “;a human institution that goes beyond all religious affiliations.”;

Legislative opponents from the first vote warned yesterday that even taking the bill up again was political suicide.

“;This is unfair and untimely,”; said Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai), who voted against the bill. “;This is going to cause chaos in the community.”;

Now the bill's fate lies with Lingle, who was en route home from California last night.

The measure has a convoluted history. On the final day of the Legislature last year, the bill was pulled from a deadlocked Senate Judiciary Committee, then it was amended, meaning it could not pass in the time allotted. But in January the Senate passed the bill 18-7. The House then postponed a decision “;indefinitely”; on a controversial voice vote, ordered by House Speaker Calvin Say.

The essentially anonymous vote caused both opponents and supporters to criticize Say for hiding the vote.

Yesterday's action was seen as a reversal.

“;We are supposed to do what is right instead of worrying about re-election,”; said Sen. Michelle Kidani (D, Mililani-Waipio).

But there are likely to be political repercussions. Kidani acknowledged that campaigning this year “;will be more difficult.”;

Dennis Arakaki, a former Democratic representative who is now executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference, said the bill caught them off guard. “;The unintended consequences might be to awaken the sleeping giant,”; Arakaki said.








        Two major candidates for governor offered these reactions to yesterday's passage of a civil-unions bill. The campaign of Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has not officially declared his candidacy, did not respond to requests for comment. But Hannemann, a Democrat, has previously voiced his support for traditional marriage.


Lt. Gov. “;Duke”; Aiona (R)

        “;The state House's last-minute political maneuvering is unfortunate for the people of Hawaii who have voiced their support for traditional marriage. If the Legislature wanted to establish the equivalent of same-sex marriage, they should have put it on the ballot for the people to decide. This bill should not be allowed to become law.”;


Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D)

        “;There has been some confusion that the debate over civil unions is a debate about same-sex marriage. It is not. The state Legislature has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Protecting people's civil rights cannot be compromised. I have always said that HB 444 ensures equal treatment under the law. Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha.”;