Who Will Stop The Civil Unions Bill?

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - February 25, 2009
A civil unions law could lead to gay marriage

In 1998, 70 percent of voters in Hawaii supported Hawaii Constitutional Amendment 2 that says, “The Legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite sex couples.” Just over a decade later, our community is still wrestling with the idea of civil unions and, by extension, same-sex marriage.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the 1998 vote settled the issue once and for all. Obviously, that is not the case. You need simply refer to the language of the amendment. “The Legislature shall have the power ...” That is the key statement.

The 1998 vote was a culmination of the debate surrounding same-sex marriage in response to the 1993 Hawaii State Supreme Court ruling that said refusing to grant a marriage license to same-sex couples was discriminatory under the state constitution. Although the ruling opened the door for same-sex marriages, the court stayed its ruling. Opponents to same-sex marriage became mobilized and increasingly vocal as the case attracted national attention.

The passing of Amendment 2 represented a quantifiable rejection of same-sex marriage. But an interesting use of language did not ban same-sex marriage in the constitution. The precision of that language would have rendered the issue practically moot. That the Legislature retains the power to determine the same-sex marriage issue is the entry to this latest round of debate and discussion.


The state House recently passed HB 444 relating to civil unions. But let’s not kid ourselves. The bill is a same-sex marriage bill, only under a different name. The proof, as with Amendment 2, is found in the language. Firstly, the bill description reads, “Extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union.” That’s pretty clear.

HB 444 also states in Section 3 (1), “Every reference in the Hawaii Revised Statutes to ‘married’shall apply equally to the status of partners in a civil union” and (2), “Every reference to ‘husband,’ ‘wife’or ‘spouse’shall apply equally to a partner in a civil union; and (3), “Every reference to marital status, including without limitation provisions pertaining to parties and procedures for annulment, divorce, separation, or dissolution, which shall apply equally and as necessary to civil unions and to partners in a civil union.”

Regardless of your position, I am hopeful that we are all aware of what truly is at stake with the “civil unions” bill. It is a not-so-thinly veiled attempt to establish same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

There are important questions to be answered as HB 444 moves to the Senate.

Will Senate President Colleen Hanabusa pull this bill from the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee? The six-member committee appears to be split on - or even opposed to - HB 444. Either scenario could kill the initiative. It is assumed Hanabusa believes there are enough votes in the Senate to support HB 444. By pulling the bill and bringing it to a floor vote, it could pass and move to conference.

If Hanabusa bypasses the committee, rest assured it would be the catalyst to ignite the opposition, and this will become the political issue of the year.

If HB 444 passes out of the Legislature, would Gov. Linda Lingle veto the bill? It’s a bit early to speculate, but it is appropriate to comment on the proceedings.

I asked Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona recently whether or not the governor would veto such a bill. He said I had to ask her.

So, Gov. Lingle, I’m asking: If passed, will you veto HB 444 or any other civil unions bill?

The governor’s office did not respond to a calls requesting a comment last week.

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