Foes caught off guard, outline plan to retaliate Historic civil-unions bill gets House OK
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
Opponents of same-sex marriage expressed outrage and disappointment yesterday after the last-minute revival of a civil-unions bill, and said they plan to come out in force to urge Gov. Linda Lingle to veto the measure.
They also vowed to take their anger to the polls this election season.
"It's not the end of the game," said Dennis Arakaki, executive director of the Hawai'i Family Forum and the Hawai'i Catholic Conference. "We still don't know what the governor's position is. That's the unknown. We're focusing on one person."
Groups and churches against same-sex marriage said yesterday that they already were rallying their members to speak out against the vote, and predicted that the governor's office would be flooded with telephone messages and e-mails by today.
Other civil-union opponents said the vote yesterday likely will fuel conservative organizing efforts and make civil unions an issue in the September primary and November general election. They said it could even be a factor in next month's special election for Hawai'i's 1st Congressional District seat.
The vote yesterday, on the last day of the legislative session, was a stunning development for civil-union opponents, who appeared satisfied that House Bill 444 was dead. The measure, revived by House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, would give same-sex and heterosexual couples the same rights as marriage.
Civil union supporters say the bill does not redefine marriage, but creates an alternative for same-sex and heterosexual couples who want to recognize their relationships and receive state rights and benefits.
Opponents, though, say civil unions are functionally the same as marriage under state law and would pave the way for redefining marriage.
The bill passed the Senate in January, but stalled in the House, after opponents came out in big numbers to speak against the measure, largely for religious reasons.
OPPONENT 'IN SHOCK'
Garret Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawai'i Christian Coalition, said that supporters of "traditional marriage ... did everything we could" to stop the civil-unions bill. "It showed by the amount of people who came out against civil unions."
He added that he believes most people in Hawai'i oppose civil unions.
And that opposition will show, he added, over the next several days.
Hashimoto also said he was "in shock" after yesterday's 31-20 House vote.
"We thought the legislators would not ignore the public sympathy," he said.
But Arakaki, a former legislator, said he wasn't surprised at yesterday's vote. Anticipating just such a turn, he tried to get the word out earlier this week to civil-union opponents and asked them to turn out in big numbers yesterday afternoon.
But he estimates only about 70 opponents made it to the House gallery — a turnout that contrasted starkly with the thousands who attended a rally in January at the Capitol against civil unions. Arakaki said the big numbers at the start of the session got civil union opponents an early victory: The measure was tabled.
And many thought it was dead — a mistake, Arakaki said, that civil-union supporters didn't make.
"I just have to give it to the proponents. They fought all the way to the end," he said. "We didn't maintain the ... opposition, as we did early on."
Yesterday, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage, called the House vote "last-minute political maneuvering" and said it was "unfortunate for the people of Hawai'i who have voiced their support for traditional marriage." He added that the civil-unions issue should have instead been put on the ballot.
"This bill should not be allowed to become law," he said, in a statement.
Arakaki said yesterday's silver lining for civil-union opponents is that the vote will undoubtedly reignite the opposition.
"I think people are going to be energized," he said, adding that energy could well spill over into the upcoming election season.
Hashimoto agreed, saying, "Our next step is to see what happens in the upcoming elections."
In the meantime, he added, "We will do everything in our power to convince Gov. Lingle to veto this bill."