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15,000 rally in Hawaii against gay unions

HONOLULU (BP)–For the second straight year, thousands of Christians descended Sunday on Hawaii’s capitol building, urging legislators not to pass a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions and implicitly warning that their seats are in jeopardy in this year’s election if they do.

Wearing white shirts and “iVote” buttons, the crowd estimated at around 15,000 was even larger than last year’s turnout of 8,000-12,000, which was credited then with pressuring senators to kill a civil unions bill when it appeared headed for passage. The bill would grant all the legal benefits of marriage, without the title, to homosexual couples. Civil unions bills in other states — such as Connecticut and Vermont — have been used as stepping stones to legalizing “gay marriage.”

The Hawaii Senate could take up the bill, H.B. 444, as early as this week, according to the Hawaii Family Forum, a Christian organization that sponsored the rally. Democrats control both chambers. Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is in her last full year in office and hasn’t taken a position on the issue.

The bill, Hawaii pastor Rick Lazor said, is being rushed.

“They want to get it out of the way. The farthest from November these guys can put this thing, the better. They’re all running for election,” Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press. He attended the rally.

Conservatives in the state are hoping the rally will have as big an impact this year as it did last year. The pending election might help. To underscore that, voter registration tables were set up to recruit unregistered attendees.

Two candidates for governor — Lieutenant Gov. James Aiona, who has made his candidacy official, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who has not — surprised many by speaking at the rally even though they were not on the official program. Aiona is a Republican, Hannemann a Democrat. A third candidate, Democrat Neil Abercrombie — who is resigning from his seat in the U.S. House — supports civil unions and did not attend the rally.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, is running to fill Abercrombie’s seat and is facing pressure from both sides of the issue. She supported the civil unions bill when it was introduced last year but began having second thoughts and eventually helped kill it. It is not known what she will do now, but the Hawaii Family Forum is urging its constituents to call, write and e-mail her and also to contact their own state senators and representatives.

Several compromises are being floated, including one that would simply add additional benefits to Hawaii’s reciprocal benefits law, which provides some of the legal benefits of marriage to any two people — same-sex or opposite-sex — who are prohibited from marrying. The law covers same-sex couples but it also covers, for instance, two sisters. A push to define marriage in the traditional sense in the Hawaii Constitution also is likely. Hawaii voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 that at the time was labeled a “marriage amendment,” but the amendment’s language fell far short of doing what other state amendments — such as California’s — do. The Hawaii amendment simply gave the legislature the sole authority to pass a law defining marriage, which it did.

Lazor, the Hawaii pastor, said his side is urgently trying to persuade people that civil unions are not a middle ground in the same-sex debate. He and others have been passing around news stories of a case out of Vermont where a birth mother who once was a lesbian but now is a Christian lost legal custody of her daughter to her former civil union lesbian partner. The case dragged on for years in state courts in Virginia — where the Christian woman moved to — and Vermont. The woman, Lisa Miller, has refused to turn over her daughter and the two have not been seen for weeks.

“That was not a gay marriage. It was a civil union,” Lazor said. “Don’t tell us that civil unions are less apt to generate this kind of craziness with social experimentation.”

The rally had Protestant, Catholic, Mormon and Muslim speakers.

“We can be cobelligerents on this,” Lazor said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To learn more about the political battle to defeat the Hawaii civil unions bill, visit www.hawaiifamilyforum.org.

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