This past April, on the last day of the legislative session, the Hawaii House of Representatives voted 31–20 in favor of HB 444, a controversial measure creating civil unions. This week, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle replied with a veto of the bill. She states, “I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same gender marriage and find that HB 444 is essentially marriage by another name.” In her public statement, Lingle also points out that the last-minute vote by legislators represents a “flawed” legal process:
The legislative maneuvering that brought HB 444 to an 11th hour vote, on the final day of the session, via a suspension of the rules, after legislators lead the public to believe that the bill was dead, was wrong and unfair to the public they represent.
But that’s not the sole reason Lingle vetoed the bill.
I want to be clear that my personal opinion is not the basis for my decision against allowing this legislation to become law. Neither is my veto based on my religious beliefs or on the political impact it might have on me or anyone else of either political party in some future election. I am vetoing this bill because I have become convinced that this issue is of such significant societal importance that it deserves to be decided directly by all the people of Hawaii [emphasis added].
Governor Lingle’s decision in this context is right. The debate surrounding the redefinition of marriage in Hawaii centers on the nature of family and its role as “a prime institution in civil society.” According to Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Chuck Donovan, the “family is not the creature of the state” but is “both natural and pre-political” in its origins. As such, the consequences of a redefinition for the whole of the state are weighty. A change of this magnitude should not “be made by one person sitting in her office or by members of the Majority Party,” but, as Governor Lingle suggests, “by all the people of Hawaii.”
Lingle is set to leave office at the end of December after serving two terms as governor. Consequently, it will be up to the next legislature to decide if a new bill should be introduced and fully debated or if such a measure should go before the voters. Hawaii voters overturned a state Supreme Court decision in 1993 that created same-sex marriage, and their next turn at the ballot box comes in this fall’s congressional and state legislative elections. Hawaii recognizes some legal obligations for unmarried partners but nothing approaching the marriage-equivalent status Governor Lingle wisely vetoed.