Little Red Anti-Civil Unions Signs

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 03, 2010

The 2010 primary election trimmed fences at Honolulu intersections of their printed foliage. Mufi’s many signs came down, as did those of the six unsuccessful Democrats who ran for lieutenant governor. Add those of defeated state House and Senate candidates, and things looked almost normal as drivers waited for the light to change.

But nine days before the Nov. 2 general election, a new sign went up at Honolulu intersections. It was small, red with white lettering and professionally made. It said simply “No” on the first line, “HB444” on the second.

HB444 was, of course, the civil unions bill that was passed by the state House and Senate this past session and vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. As a vetoed piece of legislation, HB444 was not, of course, on Tuesday’s general election ballot.

But it was in the persons of those candidates, almost all of whom were Democrats, who voted “yes” on the civil unions bill.

An organization called the United Coalition Against HB444 produced the little red signs and distributed them with the help of Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Christian Coalition. Menito Ablan, a member of the Coalition Against HB444, told Star-Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge last week: “We just decided to go for it. We’re just telling the public to be aware. We don’t want HB444 to come up again.”

In this year’s elections, Hawaii’s Republican Party “just decided to go for it” as well. Its list of legislative candidates was heavy with born-again Christians, and the GOP’s leader attempted to define biblically acceptable gubernatorial candidates. Not surprisingly, he deemed Duke Aiona the most acceptable of them all.

Aiona, like Lingle, felt the question of civil unions should go on the ballot: Allow the majority to decide whether same-sex unions should be allowed. Politically, Aiona and Lingle’s suggestion makes sense, so long as the majority agrees with your view (or your unwillingness to buck the opinions of a constituency so important to the GOP’s base, i.e., fundamentalist pastors).

But a political problem arises when majority opinion shifts. During the debate over HB444 this past session, proponents and opponents quoted different polls. But two days after the little red signs appeared this last week, the Star-Advertiser‘s Hawaii Poll reported that 48 percent of the 608 respondents supported the vetoed civil unions bill, 44 opposed it, and 9 percent were undecided.

As MidWeek goes to press, I do not know the results of the general election. But polls from a week out show pro-civil union Democrat Neil Abercrombie leading Republican anti-civil union Aiona by about the margin of the Hawaii Poll on the issue of civil unions (although their positions on civil unions alone certainly don’t explain that difference).

My guess is that Republicans will have picked up some legislative seats on Tuesday, and their positions on civil unions may well have played a role in some of those victories.

But the long-term trend is clear, and it does not favor the anti-civil unions position. Society and the courts, both nationally and locally, are becoming more tolerant of civil unions and more insistent about the rights of gays and lesbians. We’ve seen that already in the evolution of the United States military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the ranks.

In multicultural Hawaii, the Republican Party cannot run on a one-plank platform; but in election year 2010, too many voters saw Republican philosophy summarized on a little red sign that appeared in the last week of the campaign.

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