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Consequences of HB 444 will be felt at the ballot box

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 3:01 a.m. HST, Jul 7, 2010

"I VOTE" was the message emblazoned on white T-shirts and buttons that hundreds of opponents to the civil-unions bill wore yesterday.

And even as they prayed and sang in support of Gov. Linda Lingle's veto, the not-too-subtle warning was that the civil-unions debate ends with the ballot box, not the veto pen.

Fourteen years ago, when Hawaii was first wrapped in a fierce debate over the issue, a number of so-called progressive liberals were dumped because of their support for same-sex marriage legislation.

But there could be a reverse political action now that Lingle has answered the prayers of the anti-civil-unions groups, said former state Rep. Jim Shon, a Democrat who lost in 1996.

"I think the energy behind this is now dissipated," Shon says. "Anger is a more potent force than happiness, and conservatives and churches have a little less reason to be angry now."

If the churches are not angry, it appears they are still a potent force.

Francis Oda, an architect and senior pastor at New Life Church, says his political action group is intent on being a player in the fall elections.

"I think that is the normal democratic reaction," Oda says. "People will vote their feelings, either way.

"Not to be naive about it, we will be in the arena because it is our civic responsibility."

Asked whether he has goals for replacing some of the 31 House members who voted for the civil-unions bill, Oda would say only, "To the extent that political implications can be drawn, we are going to be very systematic about it."

Former Rep. Annelle Amaral remembers how she had inflamed her opponents.

"I had all the Christians out with signs saying I voted for same-sex marriage and not to vote for me," Amaral says. She admits, however, that she was already viewed as "that mouthy broad on women's issues" and that "they wouldn't have voted for me anyway."

Even so, Amaral says the impact at the ballot box could be huge.

"Conservative groups are incredibly strong. The churches are already organized," she said.

And same-sex marriage has been a rallying point for Christian political groups to either reward or punish members of the state Legislature.

"We lost some good people (in 1996)," recalls former Rep. Lennard Pepper.

"There are still very strong passions—those people who are single-issue people are going to punish those who vote against their particular point of view," said Pepper, now retired.


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