The governor of Hawaii on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have instituted civil unions in the Aloha State as LGBT groups announced plans to continue the fight for relationship recognition.
At a press conference announcing her decision, Gov. Linda Lingle (R) equated civil unions to same-sex marriage and said the issue inspired such strong emotions that it should be left for the people to decide.
“It was the depth of emotion felt by those on both sides of the issue that revealed to me how fundamental the institution of marriage is [to] our community,” she said.
Lingle had until Tuesday to sign the civil unions bill, veto it or take no action to allow the bill to become law.
During the press conference, the governor said Hawaii’s residents should decide the issue of civil unions through the referendum process.
“This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office, or by members of the majority party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus, but by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth,” she said.
In 1998, Hawaii voters approved an amendment to their state constitution allowing the legislature to prohibit same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Hawaii Legislature subsequently passed a statute banning same-sex marriage, but left the door open for civil unions.
In a statement, Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii, said Lingle’s veto marked a “sad day for the thousands of Hawaii families who remain second-class citizens.”
“We fail to see how the governor’s actions are in the best interest of Hawaii’s future and are nothing more than political maneuvering at the expense of people’s lives,” Spector said. “We’re disappointed and outraged that same-sex families will not be treated equally under Hawaii law, but vow to come back and fight this fight another day.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, also expressed disappointment in a statement that followed Lingle’s decision to veto the civil unions bill.
“Gov. Lingle’s veto of legislation that would protect and strengthen Hawaii’s families is beyond a disappointment — it is a disgrace,” Carey said. “Hawaii’s lawmakers passed this bill because it was about fundamental fairness.”
Carey said the governor’s action “flies in the face of both common sense and common humanity” and urged the legislature to override her veto.
But House Speaker Calvin Say reportedly said last week the State House would not hold a special session to override Lingle’s vetoes.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director for the Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization’s affiliates in Hawaii worked hard to influence the Republican governor to at least allow the bill to become law without her signature.
“Since this spring, Log Cabin Republicans on the Hawaiian Islands as well as the mainland United States have made it clear to Gov. Lingle and other Hawaiian lawmakers that we supported the civil union legislation,” he said.
Cooper said individual members of Log Cabin lobbied lawmakers and Lingle to support the civil unions legislation.
Activists in Hawaii are pursuing several options that could institute civil unions in Hawaii despite Lingle’s veto.
In a statement, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii announced they were filing a lawsuit in state court to fight for civil unions in the state.
Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU, said she’s “disappointed” Lingle didn’t follow through with signing the civil unions bill or allowing the legislation to become law.
“Luckily for the people of Hawaii, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation,” she said. “If the governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”
Jennifer Pizer, national marriage project director for Lambda Legal, told the Blade her organization had litigation prepared in the spring when the civil unions legislation appeared to have stalled in the Hawaii Legislature.
“We were hoping that it would not be necessary,” she said. “Now that it is, we will be switching into litigation mode.”
Pizer said Lambda would file the lawsuit, although she didn’t know the exact timing of the case. She noted that Lambda has plaintiff couples lined up for the lawsuit, but declined to offer more information about them.
“I can’t give you the details of who the clients are or exactly what the lawsuit looks like,” she said. “That will be public when we file it, but we have been working on it for quite some time.”
Pizer said that guessing how long the litigation process would take is “very difficult to say” and would depend on how the state decides to defend the case.
“We’re curious to know exactly what the path will be and how long it will take, but it’s impossible to tell until we see how the state decides to answer,” she said.
Other groups — including Equality Hawaii and the Human Rights Campaign — are making plans to elect new lawmakers and a governor who would support enacting civil unions in the state.
Don Bentz, treasurer for Equality Hawaii, said his group is awaiting the election in the fall to determine the best path for civil unions legislation.
“We have a gubernatorial race and a number of allies in the House and the Senate are both up for re-election,” Bentz said. “So depending upon who gets re-elected or does not get re-elected, that would kind of determine whether we want to reintroduce [the bill] or wait for a lawsuit to work its way through the courts.”
One candidate for governor is already capitalizing on Lingle’s veto in the race to succeed her as governor.
In a statement, Democratic candidate Neil Abercrombie said Lingle mistakenly characterized the civil unions legislation as a bill that would enact same-sex marriage.
“The state legislature has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman,” Abercrombie said. “Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha.”
Abercrombie said ensuring Hawaii residents receive equal treatment will be up to the next governor and legislature.
“Protecting people’s civil rights cannot be compromised,” Abercrombie said. “I am committed to that most essential of constitutional imperatives.”
Lingle predicted the issue of civil unions would come to the ballot soon.
“I would be surprised if this does not go on the next available ballot,” she said. “I would encourage lawmakers to do it — whether it’s those who are in office or those who are not.”
Bentz said the idea of bringing the issue of civil unions to the ballot has been under discussion for some time, but isn’t something LGBT rights advocates want to see happen.
“When you go to the ballot, the opposition throws out all these lies and misinformation that basically cause people to vote against it,” he said.
Bentz said a voter-initiated ballot initiative isn’t available in Hawaii and that the matter could only come to the ballot following a constitutional convention or direction from the legislature.