HONOLULU (BP)–Hawaii’s House handed homosexual activists a surprising victory April 29, reviving and passing a same-sex civil unions bill on the last day of the session and sending it to Gov. Linda Lingle.
Lingle, a Republican, has not taken a position on the bill, which did not pass with a veto-proof margin but would make Hawaii the sixth state nationally to grant homosexual partners the legal benefits of marriage without the name. Opponents say the bill is but a stepping stone to “gay marriage,” and they point to three states — Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont — which legalized civil unions only later to legalize “gay marriage.”
Lingle — now under significant pressure from both sides — has until July 6 either to sign the bill (H.B. 444), veto it, or let it become law without her signature, the Honolulu Advertiser reported. She is term-limited and in her final full year in office.
The bill passed 31-20, three months after the House voted via voice vote to table it, a move that seemingly killed it for the year. But it was revived April 29 by House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro. The bill needs 34 votes to override a possible Lingle veto. It passed the Senate in January by a veto-proof 18-7 margin.
The vote makes civil unions a major election issue in both the legislative and gubernatorial races. Approximately 15,000 religious conservatives descended on the state capital Jan. 17 in opposition to the bill, wearing white shirts and sporting “iVote” buttons and stickers. In 2009, between 8,000 and 12,000 religious conservatives rallied against the bill.
The conservative Hawaii Family Forum sent an e-mail to constituents after the bill passed saying, “We need you to mount a campaign to flood the Governor’s office with requests to veto the bill.”
Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press it is essential for Christians in the state “to pray for and actively lobby our governor to veto it.”
“How she might vote on this one has always been the big secret,” Lazor said. “She’s just never revealed her feelings one way or the other about it.”
It’s also important, Lazor said, to “find people who can replace the legislators who voted yes, all of whom are up for office in November.”
The bill has one possible technical problem: It says it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2010, a date placed in there because legislators originally expected it to pass last year. Supporters say the retroactive date is legal.
Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democratic who is running for governor, applauded the vote.
“There has been some confusion that the debate over civil unions is a debate about same-sex marriage. It is not,” he said, according to the Star-Bulletin newspaper. “The state Legislature has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Protecting people’s civil rights cannot be compromised.”
Republican Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, who also is running for governor, criticized the vote.
“The state House’s last-minute political maneuvering is unfortunate for the people of Hawaii who have voiced their support for traditional marriage,” Aiona said in a statement. “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.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Hawaiians can contact Lingle at 808-586-0034. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com. See how legislators voted at http://bit.ly/b2p0YN.