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Legislator champions civil unions

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    State Rep. Blake Oshiro, shown at the state Capitol, was hailed as a hero but also derided for his support of House Bill 444, a proposal to grant all couples the right to enter a civil union.

For his part in reviving the thought-to-be-dead civil unions bill, Rep. Blake Oshiro was vilified by opponents and held up as an example of a lawmaker not listening to public sentiment who would pay the price on election day.

But equally strong were the voices of support. Oshiro was hailed as a hero for showing courage to move forward on an issue that many of his colleagues — and even the governor — felt was best left on the back burner.

All in a day’s work, he says.

"I tend to believe that I was just kind of doing my job," said Oshiro, the House majority leader in 2010. "I think that legislators get elected to make the hard decisions.

"The only way democracy really works is if elected officials are willing to stand up for what they believe in and then let the voters decide at the polls whether they’re going to put them back in or not."

Oshiro, who ultimately was returned to office by voters in his Aiea-Halawa House district, found himself at the center of a political storm when he called for another vote on House Bill 444, a proposal to grant all couples the right to enter a civil union, providing all of the rights, benefits and protections of marriage.

Although an anonymous voice vote shelved the measure at the start of the session, Oshiro brought it back for a vote on the last day of the 2010 session.


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The bill passed 31-20, falling three votes short of the supermajority needed to override a governor’s veto.

Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill in July, calling it one of the most difficult decisions of her eight years in office. Lingle argued the bill allowed for same-sex marriage by another name.

Opponents of civil unions, many of whom populated the Capitol throughout the session with white T-shirts and red "iVote" stickers, vowed to take down those who supported the measure and held up Oshiro, the author of the bill, as their main target.

Outgoing City Councilman Gary Okino, who opposes civil unions, ran against Oshiro in the Democratic primary campaign that saw some of the nastier negative ads of the season. At least one ad, by the Aloha Family Alliance, attempted to raise Oshiro’s sexual orientation as an issue.

Oshiro, who is gay, defeated Okino with 53 percent of the vote in the primary and went on to win re-election over Republican Sam Kong. Okino ultimately was banned from the Democratic Party for five years for supporting Republicans whose views were more aligned with his own.

Melissa Pavlicek, a lobbyist who has worked closely with Oshiro, called him "fearless" and someone who was willing to step up and represent all of Hawaii’s citizens when no one else would.

"I think Blake did something amazing by bringing the issue to the forefront," Pavlicek said. "He was courageous in taking a stand, and I think it’s something I can hold up to my (7-year-old) son as a good example of what a leader should be."


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