The fundamental flaw in Gov. Linda Lingle’s reasoning to veto House Bill 444 was to identify civil unions as marriage. By doing so, she allowed herself an out, a way to deny a smaller measure of the rights that legitimately should extend in fullness to all citizens of Hawaii.
The governor stepped further into error when she embraced the mischaracterization of the bill’s passage as an 11th-hour maneuver when, in truth, lawmakers were appropriately responding to the bill’s supporters who, to the end, persistently sought a vote that had been quashed earlier in the session.
That civil union opponents were caught off guard does not mean the action, as Lingle said, "was wrong and unfair to the public." In fact, lawmakers broke from their usual timidity and somehow stumbled upon boldness in approving the bill that had had numerous public vettings.
Speculation that the bill’s passage was calculated to hurt her, her party or her chosen political heir can be discounted because legislators will be just as much, if not more, at risk come election time. Whatever the case, lawmakers managed to offer constitutional guarantees that are now being withheld.
Would that Lingle had found the fortitude to resolve the issue rather than throwing it into the pseudo-populist contrivance of letting "all of the people of Hawaii" decide. She would only have to look at California’s Proposition 8 that restricts marriage to heterosexual couples to see how a ballot issue can be commandeered by groups with discriminatory ideologies.
The governor was right that same-sex marriage is an emotional issue.
She served up "poignant" stories to illustrate the point, one about a man who struggled to reveal his homosexuality to his family, which rang true.
The other — about a woman who "expressed anguish" that children might someday be subjected to public-school teachings that same-sex marriage was the same as their parents’ marriage — was a red herring. Nothing in the civil unions bill would have required that, yet Lingle inserted flash points that amplify certain fears.
As strongly as people might feel about same-sex marriage, that wasn’t the matter before the governor.
A civil union isn’t same-sex marriage. It isn’t because it stops short of granting the full benefits married people are offered. It isn’t necessarily recognized by other states and certainly not by the federal government. But putting both in one category got Lingle out of a tough spot.
Establishing civil rights is not a zero-sum situation. The civil unions bill would not have denied marriages to those who want them. People who marry would have suffered no deprivation as do couples who now aren’t allowed to join.
The governor said she is "comfortable" with her decision to leave the matter to others to determine. She made no suggestion as to what should be contained in a ballot measure, saying she’d leave that to legislators, the folks she’s had little faith in previously. It is easy to be comfortable when you turn away from an important decision.
Cynthia Oi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.