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Will Hawaii's Governor Sign the New Civil Unions Bill?

By L.K. Regan

Late Thursday night, the Hawaiian House of Representatives passed a law that would make the state the sixth in the nation (along with California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) to offer same-sex civil unions. Now, the bill goes to the governor's desk—and no one knows if she will sign.

The Hawaiian House voted 31 to 20 in favor of the law, which had passed the state's Senate back in January. The passage took place against the backdrop of Hawaii's long flirtation with gay marriage. In 1993, Hawaii very nearly became the first state to legalize gay marriage when the state's Supreme Court ruled that existing marriage bans were discriminatory; this triggered the U.S.'s first state constitutional amendment effectively banning gay marriage (by granting the legislature the right to reserve marriage for straight couples, which it promptly did, by law). Now, the same religious and political groups that fought for that ban see the new civil unions law as an attempt to wear away at their efforts.

Whether Republican governor Linda Lingle will sign the bill is the current question—and she's not saying either way, merely, via her office, that she will carefully review the law. Lingle is an unknown on this subject. On the one hand, she is a moderate Republican in a generally moderate state: in fact, she is the first Republican elected to her office since 1962. She is also fairly liberal on some social issues, such as abortion, where her stance is firmly pro-choice. On the other hand, she is a good friend of Sarah Palin's, and gave a speech praising Palin at the 2008 Republican Convention, which launched her into a position of prominence within the party. With no direct evidence of Lingle's stance, advocates on both sides are left to read the ambiguous political tea leaves.

Anxiety about Lingle's potential response caused the House's delay in acting on the Senate's passage of the civil unions bill, as House Democrats feared a veto would be worse than simply not passing the measure. And the House's vote, while offering encouragingly broad support for the legislation, was troubling in one key respect: it was three votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to overturn a veto—a fact surely not lost on the deliberating governor.

Want to email the governor and ask her to pass the bill? An online petition has been started; you can sign it here.