Posted tagged ‘civil unions’

Civil unions near the finish line

February 9, 2011

During the same-sex marriage fight of the 1990’s, I once suggested settling it by taking a couple of the more reasonable advocates for the two sides — the late Tom Gill for the pro’s and Jack Hoag for the anti’s — and locking them in a room until they found a compromise that most people could agree to.

The idea of civil unions wasn’t fully conceived at the time, but I figured something like that was what they’d ultimately come up with.

Taking the word “marriage” out of the equation and making it purely a matter of equal protection under the law, I thought, might strip away some of the strong emotions that were dividing us.

It took a decade and far better minds than mine to pull the concept together, and emotions have by no means been absent from the civil unions debate of the last three years.

But after the November election decisively settled the question of whether voters were OK with extending the legal rights of marriage to gays, I’ve been impressed by the orderly manner in which the issue has moved through the 2011 Legislature.

Both sides have appeared at House and Senate hearings to have their say, but there’s been nowhere near the crowds or rancor of previous years.

With the Senate already passing a civil unions bill and House approval a virtual certainty after the measure won broad support in the Judiciary Committee yesterday, the bill appears on track to clear the Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie within a month.

The reasonably respectful tone of the discussion this year offers hope that we’ll be able to implement the new law in a way that strengthens our community rather than divides us further.


An uneasy peace on civil unions?

January 26, 2011

The fight over civil unions seems to have entered the battle-fatigue stage.

Despite extra security and high anxiety among some senators, the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on SB 232, the new vehicle to give gay couples the same legal rights as marrieds, was the most subdued ever on the emotional issue as senators heard divided testimony and then voted 3 to 2 to send the measure to the full Senate for approval.

Demonstrators were scarce, and a hearing that heard 18 hours of often-heated testimony last year was kept to a couple of hours this time, with arguments that were considerably milder in tone.

It seems the result of a strong sense on both sides that it’s a foregone conclusion the measure will pass the Legislature this session and be signed into law by new Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Lawmakers approved similar legislation last year, only to have it vetoed but Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

The issue was pretty much settled in the November election, when sweeping victories by supporters of civil unions made it obvious that a good majority of voters have no serious problem with extending these rights to gay couples.

With the writing so clearly on the wall, it’s a positive sign that the contentious waters seem to be calming so we can move on to implementing the inevitable changes in a smooth and conscientious manner.

A clear path on gay unions

November 2, 2010

Tonight’s election results should emphatically settle the divisive issue of civil unions.

Democrat Neil Abercrombie, a longtime supporter of gay rights who said he’d sign a reintroduced version of HB 444, scored a lopsided victory despite a major effort by churches that opposed the measure to get out the vote for their Republican ally James “Duke” Aiona.

Few legislators who voted for HB 444 felt the sting of the opposition as Democrats easily maintained their super-majority in the House and Senate.

The only reasonable way to read the results is that Hawai‘i voters by a solid majority are OK with giving gay couples the same legal rights as heterosexuals and it’s time to finally get past this issue that has divided us for more than a decade.

The Legislature should pass a clean version of the civil unions bill early in the 2011 session and Abercrombie should sign it without delay so we can move on to other problems.

Gay unions continue to divide

October 28, 2010

I was a little surprised that public support for the civil unions bill passed by the 2010 Legislature failed to break 50 percent in the latest Star-Advertiser poll.

The poll found that 48 percent favored HB 444, which passed both houses but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle, while 44 percent opposed the bill and the rest were undecided. The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.

Even among those who identified themselves as Democrats — a party where the sun rises and sets by civil unions these days — only 61 percent supported the measure. Republican support was a minuscule 20 percent.

I didn’t expect overwhelming support for gay unions; voters rejected same-sex marriage by a 2 to 1 margin just 12 years ago.

But I thought that giving gays the legal rights of marriage without calling it marriage would be enough of a middle ground to win over a majority in our socially liberal state.

Lawmakers will take note of the continuing sharp divisions in public opinion, but they’ll take more note of the general election results.

Rep. Blake Oshiro says he’ll introduce the bill again if he’s returned to office, and if Neil Abercrombie is elected governor and Democrats maintain their overwhelming majority in the Legislature without serious fallout from HB 444, there’s little question that a civil unions bill will be passed and signed into law early next year.

But if James “Duke” Aiona, a wins the governorship and any Democratic legislative losses are attributed to civil unions, Democrats will again have trouble rallying enough votes to override Aiona’s promised veto.

Gay marriage gets a key ruling

August 5, 2010

A ruling by a federal judge in California striking down a state law that bars same-sex couples from marrying was a long time coming.

More important than the substance of the ruling, which must go through the appeals process before anything is final, is that it finally gets this incendiary issue on the road to resolution in the federal courts, where the ultimate settlement must come.

Gay activists have long claimed a civil right to marry, but the legal fact is that no marriage right is specifically spelled out in the Constitution, and marriage doesn’t become an established civil right until the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress says it is.

Given our national political divisions, the cleaner path is probably through the courts. Once the matter is settled at the federal level, state laws will start to fall into line.

The ruling by California U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker striking down a voter initiative banning gay marriage was noteworthy for its strong language against discrimination and also for the fact that it came from a Reagan appointee who was initially opposed by gay rights groups.

The matter next goes to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the losing side will  certainly appeal to the Supreme Court. The high court could duck the issue, but hopefully the justices will see the value to our country of finally settling this.

The federal lawsuit in California is separate from a state lawsuit in Hawai’i seeking to have the court impose the terms of the civil unions bill that was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle.


Update: One of the the complainants in the dispute over House Speaker Calvin Say’s residency has received notice from state elections officer Scott Nago that a preliminary determination will be made by Aug. 9.

The complaint alleging that Say doesn’t live in the Palolo district he represents was filed by gay rights activists angry that Say didn’t call the House into special session to attempt an override of Lingle’s veto of HB 444.

The challenge of Say’s residency by backers of his Democratic opponent Dwight Synan isn’t universally supported in the local gay rights community and has exposed some deep divisions over personalities and tactics.

NOTE: For those interested in reading the full complaint against Say, I’ve posted it here.

Lingle does the predictable

July 6, 2010

The only surprise in Gov. Linda Lingle’s announcement that she would veto HB 444 was that there were no surprises.

She based the veto on her opinion that civil unions are same-sex marriage by another name, a view she telegraphed more than a month ago, and that the issue should be decided by voter referendum — an easy political out that shores up her standing with Republicans opponents of same-sex unions, while not bashing gay voters whose support she courted when she ran for governor.

Lingle said her decision wasn’t based on politics, but the political analysis I wrote more than two months ago stood up pretty well:

(Civil unions supporters) probably right that deep in her heart the governor has no philosophical problem with civil unions. But from the standpoint of 2010 politics, it would be a surprise if Lingle allowed HB 444 to become law.

The immediate political consequence is that it would set her at odds with her lieutenant governor, James “Duke” Aiona, the leading opponent of the measure, and undercut one of his major issues in his already uphill campaign to succeed Lingle.

Aiona has been Lingle’s loyal partner, and she wouldn’t likely do that to him unless she had strong personal feelings on the issue that surely would have surfaced before now.

Lingle also will have an eye to her own political interests.

For much of her term, her moderate views and efforts to reach accommodation with the Democratic Legislature created such tensions with GOP conservatives that many referred to her as a RINO — Republican in Name Only.

As her time as governor nears an end and she eyes a future in a Republican Party that has turned sharply to the right since losing the presidency and Congress to Barack Obama and the Democrats, Lingle has worked hard to shore up her conservative flank.

She turned jeers from the right into cheers by hedging her support for O’ahu rail transit and the Akaka bill for Native Hawaiian political recognition. She’s also won points in the party for stepping up her rhetoric against higher taxes and battling the public worker unions.

It’s difficult to imagine her undoing all the gains she’s made within the GOP by crossing the party on gay unions, one of the biggest conservative litmus tests.

What happens next on civil unions depends a lot on the outcome of the November election.

If opponents of HB 444 manage to take out a few Democratic lawmakers who voted for it, or if the issue has a measurable impact in statewide races, we won’t likely see this bill again for a few years.

But if all the legislators who voted for it easily survive any challenges, and if candidates friendly to HB 444 do well in statewide races, there’s no reason why Democratic lawmakers won’t pass it again next year — perhaps by a veto-proof majority.

Who is elected to succeed Lingle also matters, of course. Aiona would never sign a civil unions bill, while Neil Abercrombie would relish an opportunity to enact it into law. Mufi Hannemann has tap-danced around taking a stance on HB 444, apparently trying to position himself to the right of Abercrombie in the Democratic primary, but to the left of Aiona if he makes it to the general election.

The Democratic primary for lieutenant governor will also provide a read on voter sentiment on civil unions, with two prominent opponents of HB 444 — Robert Bunda and Norman Sakamoto — running against supporters Lyla Berg, Gary Hooser, Jon Riki Karamatsu and Brian Schatz.

The business of civil unions

June 25, 2010

Just when I think the Business Roundtable’s brush with HB 444 couldn’t get any more bizarre, it does.

The Roundtable went from a June 4 letter to Gov. Linda Lingle urging her to veto the civil unions measure, to a statement late week that the executive committee stood by the recommendation despite deepening dissent among members like Time Warner, Marriott, Foodland, Starwood and Alexander & Baldwin, to a second letter to Lingle this week doing some serious backtracking.

“Unfortunately, the use of the word veto has become equivalent to some, as a position against civil unions,” wrote executive director Gary K. Kai.

That’s right up there with Bill Clinton saying it all depends on what you mean by “is.”

So in a few weeks, the headline has gone from “Top businesses oppose civil unions” to “Top businesses are divided on civil unions” to “Top businesses rally behind civil unions.”

The Roundtable, which represents 44 of Hawai’i’s biggest companies, has always been one of our most respected business groups, with views on public policy issues that have carried much weight.

But the group comes out of this fiasco looking like babbling idiots on civil unions and with its overall credibility greatly tarnished. Its attempt to provide guidance has provided only an embarrassing distraction from which the governor can take no guidance.

On the other side of the ball, gay rights groups like Citizens for Equal Rights, the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG-Oahu and Equality Hawaii did a masterful job of turning the Roundtable by putting individual member companies on the spot, serving warning that they’ve matured into a potent political force not to be messed with.

The veto list lands

June 21, 2010

There was an interesting mixed reaction among leading supporters of HB 444 to news that Gov. Linda Lingle has placed the civil unions bill on her list of possible vetoes.

PFLAG-Oahu obviously didn’t believe the governor that she’s still making up her mind and issued a statement bashing Lingle as though the bill is already dead.

“Hawaii’s Governor has killed the spirit of Aloha and the reputation of Hawaii as a land of  freedom and justice in one death blow to this bill that has passed the 2010 Legislature,” PFLAG said.

“Lingle has said in no uncertain terms that an individual’s right to love and care for another person is of no interest to her or the Republican Party.  She has bowed to Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona and the International Transformation Network that calls for Hawaii to be the first Christian State in the nation.”

Citizens for Equal Rights took a more measured approach, noting with regret that HB 444 is among 39 bills Lingle listed for possible veto. But the group acknowledged that she’s still deliberating and urged her “to consider the significant positive economic impact HB444 could have on the economy at this critical juncture as the state and businesses struggle to rebuild revenue and create new jobs.”

The group then went on to articulate the economic benefits it sees from letting HB 444 become law based on a study by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA.

I certainly don’t know if Lingle’s mind is still open, but having come this far, it would seem to make the most sense for both sides to play it as though it is. There will be plenty of time for bashing later.

Roundtable unbusinesslike on HB 444

June 17, 2010

We’re always hearing that government should be run more like a business.

Well, if the Hawai’i Business Roundtable’s bungled lobbying on civil unions is an example of the ideal, spare us from that.

The Rountable, a normally respected group representing Hawai’i’s biggest companies, came late to the game in urging Gov. Linda Lingle to veto HB 444 based on an array of technical concerns that seemed less than compelling.

Worse, the recommendation was made by the group’s 10-member executive committee with questions raised about whether all members of the committee were on board and the extent to which the Roundtable’s 44 members were polled.

You’d think experienced business executives would know better than to play fast and loose on so emotional an issue.

Gay rights groups that support HB 444 struck back by threatening a consumer boycott of Roundtable members, and not surprisingly, individual companies started backtracking from the Roundtable’s position.

Today, the Human Rights Campaign announced that Roundtable members Time Warner Cable Inc., Aon Corp., Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., and Marriott International Inc. were backing HB 444.

We’re left to scratch our heads about what the Roundtable leadership was thinking by so haphazardly injecting the organization into the controversy. These are heavy hitters who don’t exactly need to issue a press release to get the governor’s ear.

All in all, not very businesslike.

Will Aiona veto HB 444 (II)?

June 11, 2010

Would somebody kindly look at this press release from Rep. Tom Brower and decipher for me exactly what he wants Aiona to do and what his logic is — if there is any.

Isn’t this the legislator who put out a press release calling the House passage of HB 444 a perversion of the Democratic process after he voted for the bill himself?

CIVIL UNIONS: How is Acting Governor Acting?

I wonder, on some political or personal level, might Lt. Governor Duke Aiona be open to allowing the civil union bill to become law?

During Governor Linda Lingle’s two- week absence, House Bill 444 is in the hands of our state’s leading opponent.

Despite public rhetoric against the bill, Aiona has yet to take the ultimate step to stop it: Veto power.

Article 5, section 04 of the Hawaii State Constitution states that “in the event of the absence of the governor from the State… such powers and duties shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor during such absence or disability.”

Aiona has exercised his veto power on one measure during Lingle’s absence (Senate Bill 2401).

If he does not take advantage of this power and (hypothetically-speaking) the bill becomes law, he cannot say he did “everything” he could to kill the bill. Whether he makes a choice or not, he still has made a decision. He would be just as responsible as the Governor and the other legislators for the bill’s passage.

Making the tough decisions and accepting the consequences of his actions—this is his chance to show he is more than a seat warmer.

As one of the 31 House members who supported civil unions, I encourage Aiona’s support. It would send the message to Hawaii that its top government officials understand the difference between civil unions and traditional marriage, and that we have enough safeguards in our State Constitution to protect the sanctity of marriage.


Tom Brower
State Representative
Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako

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