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Editorial | On Politics

Gay rights victory proves elections have consequences


Wednesday was about why we have elections.

With an 18-5 affirmative vote, Hawaii’s state Senate drew the curtain on 20 years of debate on the rights of gay people.

Hawaii essentially ended the discussion by going for civil unions, not marriage, but it is a remarkable, strong statement for including same-sex partners within the laws of our state.

To underline precisely where the state of Hawaii stands on civil rights, before the civil unions vote, the Senate gave unanimous consent to the nomination of Sabrina McKenna to the state Supreme Court.

She was Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s first judicial nomination and it was met with accolades. McKenna, a bright and dedicated jurist, is openly gay, which served to highlight Abercrombie’s interest in bringing many different people to government.

After the Senate’s history-making votes, Abercrombie applauded.

"Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha," he said.

McKenna’s easy victory stands in contrast to the many bitter days and nights during the past eight years when former Gov. Linda Lingle sat in support next to her University of Hawaii regent, state Supreme Court or Cabinet nominee as the Democratic majority voted each of them down.

It was also less than a year ago that things did not look bright for either civil unions or the advancement of McKenna.

She had been in the running twice for a spot on the Supreme Court, twice for chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals and five times for a seat on the Intermediate Court. Her name was included in the list of names that went up to Lingle, but the former GOP governor always picked someone else.

As an aside: The records show the importance for the governor to make his list of judicial nominees public and emphasize how Abercrombie disrespects the public with his decision to keep the list secret, even in the face of an Office of Information Practices opinion declaring the list a public document.

It was also Lingle who had crushed the hopes of gay couples across the state that they would be able to enjoy the same rights and liberties granted to heterosexual couples.

So then gays registered to vote, and started organizing. The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Hawaii and others working within the gay-lesbian-transgendered caucus of the state Democratic Party got to work.

It was through this, the gay advocacy organizations said, that "tens of thousands of phone calls, e-mails, postcards and handwritten letters have been sent to legislators urging them to approve this legislation."

That effort would not have mattered if voters had not also backed Abercrombie. His opponents, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary and former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona in the general, stood as roadblocks to civil unions.

Much like the former governor, Hannemann and Aiona would have most likely vetoed the bill, opening to question whether Democrats would have been able to override it.

But we elected Abercrombie, not Aiona or Hannemann. So when you vote or don’t vote next year, please remember, as President Barack Obama says: "Elections have consequences."

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at

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