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Editorial | Island Voices

The governor who vetoed equality

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The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of Hawaii and our allies react with great sadness, shock and anger at Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto of House Bill 444, a civil unions bill passed by solid majorities in both houses of the Hawaii Legislature. Gov. Lingle claimed that this veto was not related to her personal views or political ambitions. The primary reasons given were that civil unions are nothing more than "same-gender marriage by another name" because they offer the same rights as marriage and that civil unions are such an important issue, that it should be put up to a vote by the people.

Civil unions are a separate legal status that provide equal treatment under state law for all of Hawaii’s couples and families regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The language of HB 444 clearly states that marriage in Hawaii remains between one man and one woman.

Civil unions are different from marriage in several ways. Civil unions are not recognized by the federal government and do not convey the more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections of marriage. The rights associated with civil unions often evaporate the moment a couple leaves the state where the civil union was issued as opposed to marriage, which is universally recognized. Gov. Lingle, which rights do you think should be denied to us?

One of the biggest differences between civil unions and marriage are social ones. Civil unions are nothing more than a mechanism to provide legal rights and responsibilities to a couple, whereas marriage is a social institution with deeply held meaning. Civil unions are a class apart—children don’t dream of getting "unionized" when they grow up. And there are few who would trade their marriages for a civil union.

Gov. Lingle’s second assertion that the issue is too important to be decided by the Legislature, despite that the Hawaii Constitution requires legislative action, is patently false. The rights of a minority should never be subjected to the tyranny of the majority and this is exactly what the governor is suggesting. Imagine if a voter referendum had been applied to past issues in history. Congress would not have been able to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Supreme Court would not have been able to overturn state bans on interracial marriage in 1967.

Luckily for the people of Hawaii, our Constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and requires equal treatment under the law for all people, regardless of sex. As the governor has failed to honor her oath to the Hawaii Constitution, we will appeal to the courts. A lawsuit is being prepared and will soon be filed by Equality Hawaii’s coalition partners Lambda Legal and ACLU of Hawaii.

The past two years of advocating for civil unions have united the LGBT community here and our allies. Gov. Lingle made a significant, disingenuous calculation by vetoing HB 444 for perceived political benefit. While HB 444 was vetoed, neither the issue of equality nor our community is going away any time soon. We will continue to engage in the electoral process and collaborate with the next Legislature and new governor to secure equal rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Gov. Lingle, your veto of a vital civil rights bill serves as a catalyst for further uniting of our community and will some day be viewed as a transforming and pivotal moment in our battle for equal rights.

Alan R. Spector, LCSW, is a board member and co-founder of Equality Hawaii, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group.


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