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Hawaii's governor vetoes civil unions bill; Lambda Legal, ACLU to sue

HONOLULU – Now that Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has vetoed the civil unions bill at the last minute, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii plan to sue.

The bill, HB 444, which was approved by strong majorities in both houses of Hawaii’s legislature, would have given gay and straight Hawaii couples the right to enter into civil unions. Given final approval on April 29, the last day of the session, the bill needed the governor’s signature or veto or she could have not signed it and allowed it to become law.

Lingle waited until the waning hours of July 6, the final day for her decision, before she called a news conference to announce her veto. She said she used the veto because the bill "is essentially marriage by another name" and that "this issue deserves to be decided by all the people of Hawaii ... behind the curtain of the voting booth."

The governor's decision drew an immediate backlash from LGBT supporters.

"This was a sad surrender to political expediency that does not support business or family interests, but damages them," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project director for Lambda Legal.

"In caving in to a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign mounted by the bill's opponents, Governor Lingle has abandoned thousands of Hawaii families who have needed this bill's protections for many years. We're also disappointed that the Legislature opted to not override this veto immediately -- we would have preferred to see couples win fair treatment through the political branch rather than having to pursue legal action. However, we're still ready to do what's necessary so our clients can protect their loved ones."

Lambda Legal and the ACLU had readied a lawsuit after the House tabled HB 444 in January. The Hawaii Senate had previously approved the bill by a veto-proof 18-7 majority and sent it back to the House for a conforming vote.

"We're obviously disappointed that Governor Lingle has, once again, used her power to deny the people of Hawai'i their civil rights" said Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU. "Luckily for the people of Hawai'i, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the Governor won't honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will."

Hawai'i's constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done. This means same-sex couples cannot sue for full equality through marriage.

Although civil unions are a lesser status than marriage, they would provide a full range of state law protections and duties to gay and lesbian couples, such as access to family court to dissolve the legal status in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as spouses must, and other vital protections. Bills to offer civil unions have been under steady consideration in the Hawaii Legislature each year since 2001.

Lindle, a Republican, is in her final months as governer due to term limits.

Other reactions

“Governor Lingle’s veto of legislation that would protect and strengthen Hawaii’s families is beyond a disappointment: It is a disgrace. Hawaii’s lawmakers passed this bill because it was about fundamental fairness. The governor’s action today flies in the face of both common sense and common humanity. We urge the Hawaii Legislature to override this veto.” -- Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“Today is 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. 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.” -- Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii.

“Today was the first time a civil unions bill passed both Houses in Hawaii by solid margins and was on the Governor’s desk for signing. With such broad support from the legislators, who are the elected officials closest to the public, and the consistent results of the professional polls showing broad support for civil unions as a civil rights issue, we are deeply disappointed that the Governor ignored the will of the people and vetoed the bill. We are determined, no matter how many sessions and election cycles it takes, to achieve full recognition for our families.” -- Jo-Ann Adams, chair of the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

“Americans nationwide share in the disappointment and outrage of thousands of Hawaii’s families who will not receive equal treatment under law. Thankfully, there are local advocates as well as leaders in the Hawaii legislature who will continue to further the cause of equality. For decades, we have been a loyal partner in this fight for fairness in the Aloha State and we pledge to stand with them for years to come.” -- Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“Today, on July 6, 2010, Gov. Linda Lingle denied social justice when she vetoed HB444 for Civil Unions. Her denial is a violation of the integrity of her office and a violation of her oath of office. Governor Lingle’s denial of equal rights, benefits and protections for one segment of our citizens is a denial for all of our citizens of Hawaii.” -- the Rev. Carolyn M. Golojuch, president of PFLAG-Oahu.

“The members of Pride Alliance Hawaii are greatly disappointed in Governor Lingle's decision to veto the Civil Unions bill and allow the state to continue its discriminatory practices against same-sex couples. Two separate and independent economic studies, a poll conducted by a nationally recognized polling organization, and the thousands of residents who vocalized their support of the bill to the Governor and the Legislature over the past two years makes clear that the passage of HB444 is good economic sense, is socially just, and is supported by the people of Hawaii. The LGBT community's fight for equality in Hawaii will continue.” -- Tara O’Neill, president of Pride Alliance Hawaii.

"In the 1990s, Hawaii began the ongoing international movement toward ending gay couples' exclusion from marriage and was the first U.S. state to create a legal status to provide some state-level recognition and protections for same-sex couples. In the historic Baehr case, the Hawaii Supreme Court acknowledged a constitutional mandate to treat same-sex couples equally. Governor Lingle's decision to veto the civil union bill is deeply disappointing and unnecessarily delays Hawaii's journey toward fairness and equality. Governor Lingle has rejected the will of the state legislature and the advice of countless business and faith leaders and turned her back on the committed couples and Hawaii kin who have expressed their support for this measure. Freedom to Marry urges the Hawaii state legislature to overrule Governor Lingle's veto and take an important step toward fairness and equal protection for same-sex couples in Hawaii." -- Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.