Hawaii: Lawsuits Planned After Same-Sex Union Veto

Proponents of same-sex civil unions are already planning lawsuits to challenge Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle's veto of a bill that would have made the practice legal in the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal announced their intentions to sue just hours after yesterday evening's veto, which Governor Lingle said was due to the "societal significance" of the issue at hand.

"This decision is of such societal significance that the people of Hawaii deserve the right to directly decide whether the changes contemplated by House Bill No. 444 should become law," Lingle said in a statement.

"It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made solely on the views of a single individual or by 76 elected officials out of a population of 1,300,000," she added.

Lingle, who is Jewish and openly opposed to same gender marriage, consulted with several rabbis earlier this month before announcing her veto.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal, meanwhile, have called Lingle's decision unconstitutional, and said that they've had a lawsuit prepared since the Hawaiian House tabled H.B. 444 in January.

"We're obviously disappointed that Governor Lingle has, once again, used her power to deny the people of Hawaii their civil rights" said Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU. "Luckily for the people of Hawaii, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation."

"If the Governor won't honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will," Temple said.

"This was a sad surrender to political expediency that does not support business or family interests, but damages them," said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "In caving in to a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign mounted by the bill's opponents, Governor Lingle has abandoned thousands of Hawaii families who have needed this bill's protections for many years."

Hawaii's constitution was amended in 1998 to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which prevents same-sex couples from suing for full equality through marriage.

Pro-gay activists have instead lobbied for civil unions, which, although of a lesser status than marriage, would provide a full range of state law protections and duties to gay and lesbian couples, such as access to family courts and clear duties to pay child support and alimony.

Bills to offer civil unions in Hawaii have been under consideration since 2001.

Activists on both sides of the debate had strong reactions to yesterday's veto.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council (FRC) thanked Lingle for her decision saying that same-sex civil unions are ultimately aimed at "the deconstruction of marriage as a unique social institution."

"Society gives benefits to marriage because marriage gives benefits to society," said Sprigg, "and there is simply no benefit from homosexual relationships that would justify society's official affirmation of them, whether under the term 'domestic partnerships,' 'civil unions,' or 'marriage.'"

Hawaii's statewide LGBT group Equality Hawaii, meanwhile, was mournful over the "thousands of Hawaii families who remain second class citizens."

"We fail to see how the Governor's actions are in the best interest of Hawaii's future and are nothing more than political maneuvering at the expense of people's lives," said Alan Spector, legislative affairs co-chair for Equality Hawaii. "We're disappointed and outraged that same-sex families will not be treated equally under Hawaii law, but vow to come back and fight this fight another day."

Jo-Ann Adams, chair of the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said that she was "deeply disappointed" over Lingle's veto, especially after the bill received such broad support from legislators.

"We are determined, no matter how many sessions and election cycles it takes, to achieve full recognition for our families," she said.

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