Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle once
promised she would sign gay unions legislation if lawmakers approved
such a law.
Lingle remains the final obstacle for a
gay-inclusive civil unions bill to overcome.
The bill – sponsored by openly
gay House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro – was left for dead last
January when lawmakers voted to shelve it after senators had
overwhelmingly approved the measure. But on the last day of the
legislative session Oshiro made a motion to bring it back.
Representatives then voted in favor of the measure in a 31-to-20
But while the Senate's approval was
veto-proof, House members fell short by 3 votes.
Leaving Lingle the final arbitrator on
whether the state will recognize gay unions or not. Lingle has 45
days to decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to
become law without her signature. Officially that's July 6, but
she'll need to make up her mind by June 22. That's the day she'll
inform lawmakers about which bills she is planning to reject.
Eight years ago, Lingle promised she
would vote in favor of a bill that granted gay couples similar
rights, according to the Star Bulletin.
“On the issue of domestic
partnerships, I have stated that if the Legislature [should] pass
legislation granting certain rights I would not veto that
legislation,” Lingle answered PBS Hawaii moderator Linda Taira
during a live debate.
The Republican governor, however, has
since remained mum on the issue. And has chided lawmakers for not
focusing on the economy during the current session.
Opponents of the measure say they'll
appeal to Lingle's fiscal conservatism in an attempt to derail the
legislation from becoming law. Dennis Arakaki, executive director of
the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference, groups
opposed to gay rights, told the paper that the civil unions law,
which includes heterosexual couples, could raise benefit costs for
Gay groups say they'll return to court
if Lingle rejects the legislation.
Jennifer Pizer of Lambda
Legal was already on the ground preparing to file a challenge
when the House approved the bill. “We're delighted that, as long
as Governor Lingle does not veto the bill, our lawsuit won't be
necessary,” she said.
The Hawaii Supreme Court was the first
to rule laws limiting marriage to heterosexual unions were
unconstitutional in 1993, but the court issued a stay in the matter.
By 1998, voters had passed by a large majority (70%) a constitutional
amendment banning gay marriage. (The Hawaii ruling also prompted
passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.)
If approved, Hawaii would join New
Jersey in recognizing gay couples with civil unions. Other states –
including Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California – offer gay
couples many of the rights and obligations of marriage with domestic
partnerships. Five mostly New England states – Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa – and the District
of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Two states, New York and
Maryland, recognize gay marriages performed outside their borders.