Breaking news this evening: Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle has vetoed HB 444, the state's Civil Unions Bill. According to the Associated Press:
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's action came on the final day she had to either sign or veto the bill, which the Hawaii Legislature approved in late April.
"There has not been a bill I have contemplated more or an issue I have thought more deeply about during my eight years as governor than House Bill 444 and the institution of marriage," Lingle said at a news conference. "I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-sex marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially same sex marriage by another name."
Had Lingle not vetoed it, the measure would have granted gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits that the state provides to married couples. It also would have made Hawaii one of six states that essentially grant the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
Hawaii's statewide LGBT group Equality Hawaii, and other key leaders in the state reacted to the news with disappointment:
"Today is a sad day for the thousands of Hawaii families who remain second class citizens,” said Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii. “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."
"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,” said Jo-Ann Adams, Chair of the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. “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."
Meanwhile Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) swiftly announced a lawsuit in reaction to the veto:
“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 to 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 Hawaii however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the Governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”
Hawaii’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.
We'll keep you posted on any new developments in this story.