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Lingle vetoes civil unions bill

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Anti-civil union groups pray in the morning outside of Gov. Linda Lingle's office at the State Capitol

Gov. Linda Lingle announced today that she will veto the civil unions bill, describing the measure as "marriage by another name."

Lingle said the legislative maneuvering by the House, which brought the bill to a vote on the last day of session, was wrong and that the issue is of such societal importance that it should involve all the people of Hawaii.

She said she made the decision about a week ago. "I feel very comfortable with my decision," she said. "I think I gave (the issue) the dignity that it deserved."

"I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-gender marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially marriage by another name," the governor said.

The Republican governor said she believes the issue of civil unions should go before voters in a ballot question and that lawmakers should draft the language for a ballot question during the next session. "I would be surprised (if) this does not go on the next available ballot."

Opponents of civil unions celebrated the governor’s decision, while disappointed gay rights activists will likely push for the bill again next year.

Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference expressed their gratitude to the governor.  "Her decision came after a thoughtful and balanced study of the bill and its consequences and we are convinced she has come to the proper and only conclusion that will best serve the people of Hawaii," they said in a statement issued soon after she announced her decision.

But HB444 advocates Citizens for Equal Rights issued a statement saying they are "deeply disappointed," saying the veto "helps perpetuate current conditions that allow discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) families. This is not where we are as a society, as a nation and state."

"We think the governor passed up a historic opportunity for leadership on an issue whose time has come. But we are determined to keep up the struggle for equality," the group said.

Dozens of advocates and opponents gathered outside the state Capitol earlier today for one final burst of lobbying. Supporters, many wearing rainbow-colored lei, boomed popular music over a sound system and waved flags symbolizing equality. Opponents, many dressed in white T-shirts, formed prayer circles and sang hymns.

House Bill 444 would have given same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law. Same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships performed in other states would have been recognized as civil unions in Hawaii.

While religious conservatives and other opponents have equated civil unions to marriage, there are differences. Civil unions in Hawaii would not have been recognized under federal law or by other states or countries that do not have civil-unions laws. Civil unions would also not have had the same religious, cultural and social significance as marriage.

Under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998, the state Legislature has the authority to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The civil-unions bill stated that it is not the intent of the Legislature to redefine marriage.

The state House passed a civil-unions bill last year that only applied to same-sex couples. The bill was amended by the state Senate to include heterosexual couples on the second-to-last day of session, but the change meant that the Senate could not take final action before the session ended.

The Senate took up the bill again in January of this year and passed it 18-7, enough votes to reach the two-thirds’ threshold to override a veto. The House decided in February to indefinitely postpone action on the bill. But House lawmakers revived the bill on the last day of session in April and passed it in a 31-20 vote, three votes short of the two-thirds needed for an override.

Lingle had said she wanted to take the full 45 working days she is allowed under state law to consider her decision. The Republican governor said in May that she thought that civil unions, as described in the bill, were equivalent to same-sex marriage, which she opposes. But she met privately with advocates and opponents of the bill and said she had gone back and forth in her mind about her decision.

 House leaders announced on Friday that they would not return for a one-day veto override session today. Senate leaders had said they were willing to return. The House’s decision left the fate of the civil-unions bill solely in Lingle’s hands for this year.

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