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Christians in Hawaii credited for gay civil unions defeat

HONOLULU (BP)–One month after its passage appeared all but certain, a bill to legalize civil unions in Hawaii was rejected Wednesday in the state Senate, and observers on both sides are pointing to an outpouring of opposition from Christians as a main reason.

The bill would have made Hawaii the sixth state to grant homosexual couples all the legal benefit of marriage minus the name. The bill deadlocked at 3-3 in a Senate committee Feb. 25 but nevertheless appeared headed for passage when Democratic leaders claimed they had majority support for it in the full body. But support plummeted in the following days, and on Wednesday an attempt to pull it from committee failed, with only six of 24 senators supporting the action. It needed nine votes — one third of the body — to be considered on the floor.

The turning point turned out to be a rally at the state capitol Feb. 22 in which 8,000 to 12,000 opponents — most dressed in red — urged senators to defeat the bill, which had passed the House, 33-17.

“That’s when minds changed,” Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press.

At the committee meeting two days after the rally, about 1,400 people — the large majority of them opponents — showed up to testify. The hearing lasted more than 15 hours and didn’t end until after 3 a.m. In the following days opponents continued calling, writing and e-mailing their senators, Lazor said.

Wednesday’s vote in Hawaii stood in stark contrast to what is taking place in the New England states, where “gay marriage” bills are advancing at what conservatives consider an alarming rate. New Hampshire’s Democratic-controlled House passed a bill (H.B. 436) by a vote of 186-179 Thursday that would legalize “gay marriage,” sending it to the state Senate, a more conservative body where the bill may have a tougher road. Its passage came minutes after the bill actually failed, 183-182, but supporters were able to revive it and hold a second vote. New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch has not said whether he would veto it, although he has said in the past he opposes “gay marriage.”

But conservatives in Hawaii say they are proof that a similar bill can be defeated, even in a left-leaning state. At the time of the rally at the state capitol, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, had said the bill had majority support.

“We were surprised [at our success],” said Lazor, calling it a “major victory.”

“We didn’t think it would matter much because we thought there was a large enough majority who wanted it. But four or five of [the senators] in particular have said to us that they had to rethink the bill when they realized how the public actually felt.”

In fact, Hanabusa herself began having second thoughts about supporting the bill. The Honolulu Advertiser reported that Hanabusa was warning legislators that passing the bill could open Hawaii up to a lawsuit claiming an equal protection right to “gay marriage” — similar to what happened in Connecticut, which had a civil unions law but was forced by a court to legalize “gay marriage.” Hanabusa also said senators were wary about circumventing the committee process.

Lazor, though, said he expects the bill to come up again in future sessions.

Democratic State Rep. Blake Oshiro, a bill sponsor, told the Advertiser, “Unfortunately, it appears that sometimes people are more concerned about keeping their job than doing their job.”

The New Hampshire bill appeared dead after the first vote showed a one-vote loss. Opponents in the gallery began applauding. But senators who voted “no” on the bill were unable to kill it for good, and supporters made a motion to reconsider it. That motion passed, 190-175. Moments later, a vote to adopt the bill passed, 186-179.

Democrats hold a 14-10 edge in the Senate. Kevin H. Smith, executive director of the New Hampshire Cornerstone Policy Research, which opposes the bill, said he was “very surprised” the bill initially lost and that he remains hopeful.

“We’re encouraged that the vote lost for the first time in the House,” Smith told Baptist Press. “But we’re further encouraged that the Senate hopefully will kill it. I’ve already talked to a few of the Democrats who have said they would not vote for it.”

Opponents, Smith said, are urging Gov. Lynch to promise to veto it.

During floor debate prior to the initial vote, Democratic Rep. David Pierce, who is homosexual, asked members to support it. Pierce has a partner and they have adopted two daughters.

“Massachusetts and Connecticut have marriage because the courts told them to do it,” Pierce said. “That should not be the New Hampshire way.”

Republican Rep. Alfred Baldasaro, who opposed the bill, urged members not to be intimidated into supporting it.

“I’ve gotten e-mails … telling me how terrible I am, how vicious I am, how homophobi[c] I am because I refuse to change my way or thinking,” Baldasaro said. “Do you think this is proper … that we should be viciously attacked because we believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman?”

Vermont also is considering a “gay marriage” bill. It passed the Senate by a veto-proof margin and is before the House Judiciary Committee. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas said he would veto it.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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