Hawaii governor says bill's civil unions may be same-sex marriage
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday that she has not made up her mind on civil unions but described the bill passed by the state Legislature as the equivalent of same-sex marriage.
Her description is identical to complaints from religious conservatives who oppose civil unions and to a resolution approved yesterday by state Republicans who want her to veto the bill.
"It does appear to me on reading it, that it really is same-sex marriage, but by a different name," Lingle told reporters during a break at the state GOP convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikīkī. "But I want to wait and hear people out."
Lingle has said in the past that she would consider some form of domestic partnership legislation but she has opposed same-sex marriage.
The governor made it clear yesterday that she believes domestic partnerships are different from the civil unions described in the bill.
The bill would give same-sex and heterosexual couples who enter into civil unions the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as in marriage under state law.
Couples in civil unions, however, would not be recognized under federal law. Gay rights activists believe this distinction, as well as the fact that civil unions would not have the same social and cultural significance as marriage, separates civil unions from marriage.
The bill also specifically states that it is not the intent of the Legislature to revise the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
"Civil unions is an alternative legal mechanism to ensure that all couples and families get the same equal treatment under the law. But it's not a marriage," said Alan Spector of Equality Hawai'i, a group that has campaigned for civil unions.
BY A DIFFERENT NAME
Spector said a poll taken for activists in March 2009 showed that people draw a distinction between civil unions and same-sex marriage. Support for civil unions, the poll found, is far higher than same-sex marriage.
"The other point is, if civil unions and marriage were the same thing, how many married opposite-sex couples would be willing to trade in their marriages for civil unions?" he asked.
State Rep. Gene Ward, R-17th (Kalama Valley, Queen's Gate, Hawai'i Kai), who served as chairman of the state GOP convention, called civil unions "a rose by another name."
"Look, if we want to do this, let's go back to the people," he said, urging a state constitutional amendment on the issue for voters.
Lingle said she has appointments scheduled with advocates and opponents of civil unions and has not decided whether she will sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without her signature. She has until July 6 to decide, but must inform the state Legislature 10 days before if she intends to veto the bill.
"I just think there are very good points being made on both sides," she said.
Speculation about what Lingle would do on civil unions started immediately after the state House passed the bill on the last day of session in April.
Republicans passed a resolution at their state convention yesterday urging Lingle to veto the bill. Many of the Republicans at the convention were wearing red stickers that said: "Veto HB444."
The resolution states that while people are free to choose their own lifestyles, "their choices may not always be good for all of society."
The resolution describes marriage as a fundamental institution that should be protected and reserved for heterosexual couples.
It cites the 1998 state constitutional amendment that gave lawmakers the authority to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
While "equal rights are guaranteed no matter a person's gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, no such guarantee exists for the institution of marriage," the resolution states.
The resolution characterizes the bill as "same-sex marriage in disguise or merely by another name."