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Hawaii Gov. Lingle vetoes gay unions bill

HONOLULU (BP)–Following weeks of speculation, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a same-sex civil unions bill July 6, calling the proposal “marriage by another name” and saying the issue should be decided only by citizens in a statewide vote.

It was a significant defeat for homosexual activists, who had pressured the Democratic-controlled legislature to revive and pass the bill on the last day of the session in April and had hoped the governor, a Republican who opposes “gay marriage,” could be persuaded either to sign it or to let it become law without her signature.

But the bill’s opponents, led by the Christian group Hawaii Family Forum, made their voices heard in those two-plus months. Lingle’s office said 60 percent of the 30,000-plus e-mails, calls and letters were opposed to the bill, which would have granted homosexual couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.

Opponents argued it simply would serve as a stepping stone to “gay marriage,” and they pointed to three states — Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont — which previously had civil unions but now recognize “gay marriage.” Hawaii would have become the 11th state to legalize either “gay marriage or civil unions (or their equivalent).

The state House does not have the votes to override the veto. Lingle waited until the last possible day to veto it, announcing her decision in a news conference broadcast statewide on television and radio. She had met with supporters and opponents in recent days and invited both sides to attend her announcement. She said that in her nearly eight years in office she had not contemplated any other issue more so than the civil unions bill.

“I am vetoing this bill because I have become convinced that this issue is of such significant societal importance that it deserves to be decided directly by all the people of Hawaii,” she said. “… [W]hile ours is a system of representative government it also is one that recognizes that, from time to time, there are issues that require the reflection, collective wisdom and consent of the people and reserves to them the right to directly decide those matters. This is one such issue.”

The unique nature of the state had captivated pro-family leaders on the mainland. Hawaii has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, but it was the state’s Christian conservative voters who were the most organized and visible during the civil unions debate. Approximately 15,000 religious conservatives attended an anti-civil unions rally Jan. 17. Last year, when the bill also was considered in the legislature, between 8,000 and 12,000 religious conservatives rallied against the bill.

“This was a great testimony to the power of persistence among believers of all stripes and an effective unity among them in tastefully and persuasively making their case to our leaders,” Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press.

Hawaii is the state that started the nationwide debate over “gay marriage.” After its Supreme Court issued a 1993 decision threatening to overturn the state’s laws and legalize “gay marriage,” Congress got involved, passing the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 that gave states the option of not recognizing another state’s “gay marriage” laws. Then, in 1998, Hawaii voters, by a 70-30 percent margin, adopted a constitutional amendment that gave the state legislature authority over marriage laws. The legislature followed by passing a law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

The debate is far from over. Lingle is term-limited and in her final year, and her replacement — to be decided in November’s election — could decide the future of the issue. Among the Democrats, Neil Abercrombie supports civil unions and opposes putting the issue before voters, while Mufi Hannemann favors citizen involvement. The leading Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, had urged Lingle to veto the bill. Senate and House members are also up for re-election.

Additionally, the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal are threatening to file suit in the state to force the recognition of civil unions.

The Hawaii Family Forum sent out an e-mail the day after the veto, urging people to register.

“None of us believe for a moment that this issue is now dead and gone,” Lazor said. “So our two-fold prayer now is that 1) we would be diligent to demonstrate the same passion over the long haul for the family and for biblical principles that homosexual activists display in their fervor and 2) that we would understand the need to be diligent in seeking and supporting candidates for public office this fall who will work with us to insure that lawmakers will finally, once and for all, take seriously the very motto of our state, ‘Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono’ — ‘the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.'”

Lingle told of the internal struggle she had after meeting with people on both sides of the issue.

“Few could be unmoved by the poignant story told to me in my office by a young Big Island man who recounted the journey he had taken to bring himself to tell his very traditional parents that he was gay,” she said. “I was similarly touched by the mother who in the same office expressed anguish at the prospect of the public schools teaching her children that a same-gender marriage was equivalent to their mother and father’s marriage.”

Five states — California, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state — recognize civil unions or their cousin, domestic partnerships. Five other states recognize “gay marriage”: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The District of Columbia also recognizes “gay marriage.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com.

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