Coming Full Circle, Hawaii Legislature Passes Civil Union Legislation

hawaiiLast night, in a 31-20 vote, the Hawaii House unexpectedly passed legislation extending civil unions to same sex and opposite sex couples. If signed by the moderate Republican Governor Linda Lingle, Hawaii will become “one of six states giving all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples, but without calling it marriage.” The Star Bulletin sets the scene:

The House vote came yesterday evening after an afternoon spent in caucus and marked with procedural votes that showed supporters had a 31-vote majority with 20 opposed. Thirty-four votes are needed to override a veto. When the final vote was tallied, again at 31-20, with two Republicans, Reps. Barbara Marumoto and Cynthia Thielen, joining the Democratic majority, the reaction from the packed House gallery was subdued. Supporters looked at each other; some cried. Outside, they sang “We Shall Overcome” and hugged each other.

“Martin Luther King said it best,” House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro told a local NBC affiliate after the vote, “‘The arc of history is long and once in a while you get to bend it correctly,’ and today we bent it in the right way, towards justice.”

Indeed, Hawaii has been a battleground for gay rights since the 1990s, when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared that the state “could not bar same-sex couples from marrying without violating its own equal protection statutes.” The decision, the first of its kind, led to a national backlash against gay equality and led President Clinton to sign the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. By 1998, Hawaii voters approved the nation’s first ‘defense of marriage’ constitutional amendment with 78% of the vote. It wasn’t until 2001 that the first civil union bill was introduced in the Hawaii legislature, only to pass 8 years later. The Senate did not approve the measure until earlier this year.

Nobody knows how the governor will act — the House fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto — but Michael Jones makes the case for why Lingle, a fried of Sarah Palin, should sign the measure here. Lingle has until July 6th to make her decision. She could do nothing and allow the bill to come law, sign it, or veto it. The Lieutenant Governor, incidentally, is publicly opposing the measure.