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Hawaii Civil Unions Bill OK’d, Sent to Governor

Hawaii Civil Unions Bill OK’d, Sent to Governor


A bill that would allow same-sex civil unions in Hawaii passed the state house Thursday and moved to Gov. Linda Lingle, who has not said whether she will sign or veto the bill.

According to the Associated Press, the Hawaii house voted 31-20 in favor of the measure, which passed the senate in January. The revival of the bill on the last day of the year's legislative session was unexpected, and resulted from a motion by Democratic house majority leader Blake Oshiro after other business was completed. The house vote fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Governor Lingle.

"The measure would grant gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits that the state provides to married couples," reports the AP. Governor Lingle, a Republican, said her office would "carefully review the bill," which also allows civil unions for straight couples.

The civil unions debate last year drew some of the biggest protests ever in Hawaii, a high-profile battleground since the 1993 state supreme court decision that almost legalized same-sex marriage. In 1998, Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the power to ban same-sex marriage.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, served as co-counsel in the historic Baehr v. Miike Hawaii case credited with sparking the marriage equality movement. He issued a statement Friday morning that applauded the civil unions bill as a "major step forward" but one that falls short of the right to marry.

"In the 1990s, Hawaii began the national conversation about ending gay couples' exclusion from marriage, and was the first to create a legal status to provide some state-level recognition and protections for same-sex couples," said Wolfson. "The legislature's passage of a civil union bill marks a major step forward in Hawaii's journey toward fairness and equality, but falls short of the full security and equal protection that come only with the freedom to marry. In the years since the groundbreaking Hawaii marriage case, the experience of other states such as Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey -- as well as several countries -- has been that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. I urge Governor Lingle to swiftly sign House Bill 444 into law, and to Hawaii continuing its journey and finishing the job by ending the denial of marriage."

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