Freedom to Marry executive director Evan Wolfson called the civil unions veto from Hawaii governor Linda Lingle "profoundly disingenuous" as exemplified by her recommendation that the public should vote on the issue, which it already did in 1998.
Wolfson served as co-counsel in the landmark 1993 Hawaii marriage case Baehr v. Miike, credited with launching the ongoing conversation about marriage equality. He spoke with The Advocate on Wednesday morning about Lingle's veto, which she announced Tuesday evening.
"The governor's statement was profoundly disingenuous from A to Z," said Wolfson. "She did the wrong thing for the wrong reason."
Gov. Lingle, a Republican, announced on the last possible day that she would veto the civil unions bill passed by the legislature in April. During the press conference in Honolulu, she made repeated suggestions that voters, not elected lawmakers and executives, should decide the question.
"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," said Lingle.
The term-limited Republican also said, "This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office or by members of the Majority Party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus, but by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth."
Wolfson said her argument mischaracterized the discriminatory constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998, which gave the legislature the power to restrict marriage. Amendment 2 followed years of litigation after the Hawaii supreme court ruled in Baehr that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional.
"I think basic rights for any Americans are not supposed to be put up to a vote, but in 1998, the people of Hawaii did vote, so it's not really clear what the governor was talking about," said Wolfson. "The amendment said the legislature shall have the power to restrict marriage to different sexed couples only. It also therefore gave the legislature the power not to restrict marriage. And it said nothing that precludes the legislature form doing what it did this term."
"Even on her own terms, people did vote, and they voted to allow the legislature to do exactly what she vetoed last night," said Wolfson.
He also blasted Lingle, who opposes marriage equality, for her assertion that civil unions and same-sex marriages are essentially the same.
"Civil unions do bring important protections," he said. "They do not provide the full measure of protection or perhaps even more important, intangible security, clarity and dignity. If the governor took weeks and weeks and weeks of dragging people thorough a delaying process, I'm sure she learned that."
Almost immediately after the governor's announcement, Lambda Legal and the ACLU announced they would activate a lawsuit waiting in the wings since January. As for a legislative remedy, lawmakers previously indicated they would not attempt to override a veto.
Legal and legislative tactics need to be combined with public education for redoubled efforts on all three fronts, said Wolfson.
"There are these three areas: public education, litigation and legislation," said Wolfson. "I think we need to move forward on all of them. At the heart of it is really having a deeper conversation with the people of Hawaii and others around the country about why marriage matters. To not have that conversation, and to only talk about civil unions, gets us a veto and a disingenuous claim that it's all the same. If that's the case, we might as well fight for what we deserve."