April 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Hawaii passes civil unions bill

In an unexpected development, Hawaii’s House of Representatives on Thursday voted 31-20 to pass a civil unions bill providing the same rights and benefits of marriage to the state’s same-sex couples.

The vote came during the final hours of the legislative body’s session and after many political observers expected supporters to postpone a vote because they lacked sufficient support to override any veto by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle has not said whether she will sign or veto the bill. Opponents, led by the state Catholic Archdiocese, are demanding that Lingle veto the measure. Supporters need 34 votes to override a veto, three more than the number who voted for the measure on Thursday.

“The legislature’s passage of a civil union bill marks a major step forward in Hawaii’s journey toward fairness and equality, but falls short of the full security and equality protection that come only with the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Hawaii’s state Senate passed the bill earlier this year.

Wolfson played a role in efforts to push for same-sex marriage in Hawaii during the early 1990s, when same-sex couples filed a lawsuit asserting the state’s Constitution required recognition of same-sex marriage. In a highly controversial decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple’s suit, setting in motion a process where Hawaii could have become the nation’s first state to legalize gay marriage.

But opponents fought back, pushing through a ballot measure approved by the voters that amended the state’s Constitution in 1998 to ban gay marriage. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in 1993 has been credited with unleashing a nationwide backlash against same-sex marriage that led to ballot measures banning gay marriage in states across the country.

Wolfson and other LGBT activists have expressed hope that that backlash is subsiding, and that more states will soon approve same-sex marriage laws similar to those in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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