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Debate keys on civil unions

The Democrats vying for governor discuss their stands on the issue

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 8:48 p.m. HST, Sep 2, 2010

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann last night sought to guide the civil-unions debate toward same-sex marriage, while former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, his opponent in the Democratic primary for governor, said he doubted the state would move away from defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

In the first live televised debate of the campaign, Hannemann and Abercrombie touched on issues such as civil unions, economic growth, public education, the Honolulu rail transit project and a Hannemann campaign brochure some believe was negative.

Hannemann said the more important question is not civil unions but whether he or Abercrombie would legalize same-sex marriage.

"I stand unalterably opposed to same-sex marriages. I believe it's sacrosanct between a man and a woman," he said. "But obviously I'm willing to work with the legislators to ensure that we end discrimination, that we extend benefits to gay couples that are not in the institution of marriage.

"But that's where I sort of draw the line. And I think that's a relevant question to ask."

Abercrombie said the state should not differentiate when it comes to civil rights. "What you do as governor is you defend everyone's civil rights," he said.

He said same-sex marriage is not the issue. "That question is not before us, and is unlikely ever to be," he said.

Hannemann said he would have vetoed a civil-unions bill rejected by Gov. Linda Lingle in July. Abercrombie said he would have signed the bill, which would have given same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and enjoy the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.

Hannemann has said civil unions would have been equivalent to marriage under the bill, while Abercrombie has said marriage would still be distinct. The state Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

A contrite Hannemann, meanwhile, acknowledged the criticism his campaign received this week over a brochure that asked voters to compare where the candidates were born, their wives and where they went to school. The brochure also poked fun at Abercrombie for once winning first place in the Lahaina Whaling Days beard contest.

He said he believed the brochure was misconstrued by some as negative. He said others saw the brochure as a legitimate comparison of the differences between the candidates.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the Republican Lingle were critical of the brochure when asked by reporters yesterday.

"If we caused that kind of uneasiness and suffering, if you will, with some people who saw it that way, certainly it's regrettable," Hannemann said. "And I'm sorry if it caused you that kind of feeling."

Abercrombie and Hannemann have appeared together at several public forums across the state, but last night was the first time voters statewide could see them on live television. The one-hour debate was moderated by reporter Gina Mangieri on KHON.

On most of the public-policy issues addressed, the candidates stayed with positions and themes they have outlined over the past several months.

Hannemann dismissed suggestions by Abercrombie during the campaign that residents on the neighbor islands may have to help finance Honolulu's $5.5 billion rail project. The former mayor said the project would be financed through a general-excise tax surcharge on Oahu and federal transit money.

Abercrombie indicated that he would expand prison space in Hawaii and said he would end the practice of sending Hawaii prisoners to the mainland, where incarceration costs are lower. He said sending prisoners to the mainland disrupts families and makes it more difficult for prisoners to integrate back into the community after they are released. Hannemann said he also wants to reduce the number of prisoners sent to the mainland but would first work with community leaders given past opposition to new prisons.

Asked about their political futures, both Abercrombie and Hannemann committed to filling out the full four-year term if elected governor.


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