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Christian opposition (again) credited with defeat of Hawaii gay unions bill

HONOLULU (BP)–A same-sex civil unions bill in Hawaii likely is dead for the year after the Democratic-controlled House bowed to pressure from Christian conservatives and voted to table the measure.

It’s the second year in a row that opposition from religious conservatives has helped defeat the bill.

House members, via voice vote, voted Friday to table the bill (H.B. 444), postponing the issue indefinitely. The vote came nearly two weeks after approximately 15,000 religious conservatives descended on the state capital Jan. 17 in opposition to the bill, most wearing white shirts and sporting “iVote” buttons and stickers. Many of them also contacted their representatives and senators in the ensuing days. The bill would have granted homosexual partners all the legal benefits of marriage, except the name itself, and would have made Hawaii the sixth state with a similar law.

The fact that there was no roll call vote surprised citizens and groups on both sides of the issue. Some supporters of the bill walked out of the chamber shouting “cowards.”

The voice vote took place following the conclusion of a Friday morning closed-door Democratic caucus meeting where votes were counted and strategy decided. The bill may have had majority support but it did not have the veto-proof, two-thirds support needed to overcome a possible veto by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who had not taken a position on it. The same chamber passed the bill 33-17 last year, one vote shy of a veto-proof margin. Democratic leaders did not want to put the measure up for a vote this year — an election year — unless it could become law.

Any representative on the floor could have called for a roll call vote on the table motion, but, surprisingly, none did. Democrats hold a 45-6 advantage in the chamber. If the bill had passed it would have gone to Lingle. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed it 18-7 one week earlier.

Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press the outcome was pleasantly surprising.

“We can come up with some good procedural reasons [for why it failed], but I don’t have a doubt in my mind that it was prayer,” Lazor told Baptist Press. “We can’t figure out how seven or eight representatives switched [in the last year], and some of these who became ‘no’ votes or didn’t want to vote were folks who were extremely passionate about passing it last year. It was pretty amazing.”

Although civil unions are often promoted as a compromise they increasingly are viewed as simply a bridge to “gay marriage” itself. Three states — Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont — legalized civil unions only later to legalize “gay marriage.”

Five states — California, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state — recognize civil unions or their cousin, domestic partnerships.

“None of us here in the state legislature are cowards,” Hawaii Democratic House Speaker Calvin Say, who supported the bill but also backed the table motion, told KITV television. “They were listening to their constituency at this point in time and the votes were not there.”

In 2009 a rally that drew between 8,000 and 12,000 was credited with helping defeat a civil unions bill in the Senate after it had passed the House. Christians appeared to have their work cut out for them this year, especially after the Senate passed the bill and sent it to the body that previously had approved it.

Lazor said what has happened in Hawaii proves that when enough religious conservatives speak up, politicians will react accordingly. The rallies made a difference, he said, as did the phone calls and personal visits.

“Lovingly confront these guys with how you feel,” he said. “They’ll listen, especially when you’ve got a November election looming.”

The future of civil unions in Hawaii may now hinge on who wins the governor’s seat in November. Lingle is in her last term. Two candidates for governor — Lieutenant Gov. James Aiona, a Republican who has made his candidacy official, and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a Democrat who has not — oppose civil unions. Democrat Neil Abercrombie — who is resigning from his seat in the U.S. House — supports civil unions.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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