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Hawaii showed preference for civil unions at ballot box

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Now that civil unions have become law in Hawaii with Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signature, it’s time to move past all the years of acrimony and work on implementing the new law in a way that strengthens our community rather than divides us further.

It isn’t helpful when opponents such as Sen. Mike Gabbard dubiously claim that Abercrombie and the Legislature spit in the face of public opinion.

"Hawaii politicians have shown that they just don’t care about the views and values of the majority of Hawaii’s residents," Gabbard said. "The people of Hawaii made it clear that they’re against civil unions and same-sex marriage, and the politicians have basically said, ‘To hell with you.’"

Such outdated measures of public sentiment are based on the 1998 vote that was nearly 2-to-1 in favor of a constitutional amendment that allowed the Legislature to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Any reasonable analysis of more recent election results makes it indisputably clear that public opinion has shifted in the last 12 years. Start with the convincing win in the 2010 governor’s race by Abercrombie, a longtime supporter of gay unions who promised to sign the civil unions bill that his predecessor Linda Lingle vetoed.

Voters had clear options to defeat civil unions. Abercrombie’s primary and general election opponents, Mufi Hannemann and James "Duke" Aiona, campaigned on promises to veto the bill. Abercrombie beat Hannemann 59.4 percent to 37.8 percent, then beat Aiona 57.8 percent to 40.8 percent.

The bellwether legislative race on the issue had similar results, with the bill’s author, Rep. Blake Oshiro, defeating civil-unions opponent Gary Okino 53.7 percent to 41.8 percent.

No prominent advocate of civil unions was punished by voters, and no prominent opponent was rewarded. The only logical conclusion is that a solid majority of voters were OK with civil unions being enacted into law, and those who argue otherwise are basically saying, "To hell with reality."

Equally bogus is the argument that by making civil unions their first major order of business, legislators gave the issue priority over the budget and economy. They enacted the clear will of voters in an expeditious manner and were done with it by the time Abercrombie sent them a budget to work on.

The bottom line is that Gabbard and other opponents of civil unions made big political threats but couldn’t produce the votes to back them up. They lost a fair fight.

Gay-rights advocates organized meticulously for more than a decade and succeeded in moving public opinion and electing candidates who agreed with them. They won fair and square, and if you believe in our democratic process, you can’t begrudge them their hard-earned victory.

David Shapiro can be reached at or


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