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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Having listened, Lingle shouldn't block 444

There's no room for compromise among all the culture warriors embroiled in the battle over whether Hawai'i should recognize civil unions.

But they ought to come to terms on at least this point: Gov. Linda Lingle deserves applause for giving advocates and opponents a chance to personally make their cases in meetings with the governor this week.

When her final decision comes down and we hope she will support or at least not obstruct the enactment of House Bill 444 an uproar is sure to erupt from one side or the other.

This is the definition of a no-win situation, but at least Lingle's attention to the arguments will give the people the sense that they were heard.

That's a crucial gesture for the governor to make at this time, when some raw feelings linger over the surprise resurrection of the bill in the last hours of the session. The bill did go through all its hearings and readings, but civil unions opponents couldn't help feeling snookered. The governor's outreach may have provided some salve.

That said, it's time to move on to a decision based on fairness, a standard that can be met most fully if civil unions become legal.

A contention made here and by advocates bears repeating: HB 444 is not same-sex marriage, no matter what foes say.

Married couples get a set of state protections as well as a menu of federal benefits, all of which go with them, regardless of where they live. State law and the federal Defense of Marriage Act bar same-sex couples from this portable legal status and from sharing federal benefits, which include income tax benefits, Social Security, Medicaid, pensions and family leave.

But Hawai'i does have the power to give its own services and protections to all couples. Otherwise, some must jump through added legal hoops and incur extra expense, for example, to secure inheritance or gain court divorce protection.

And to what end? There is a University of Hawai'i report asserting that civil unions would not burden the state fiscally. Some would dispute the findings but can offer no firm evidence that the civil unions provision would cause economic harm to anyone.

So where, exactly, would the governor find the compelling interest in providing state rights to some but not others?

Lingle was quoted in a 2002 interview saying that she opposed same-sex marriage but would not stand in the way of a law to provide domestic partnerships or civil unions. That is precisely what HB 444 does.

Lingle should stand by that view. If she reverses, she'll have to explain what's changed in eight years, since it's not apparent to us.

The governor now has a chance to make a courageous choice that puts Hawai'i firmly on the right side of history. She should take that opportunity.