Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (R) [official website] on Tuesday vetoed [statement of veto, PDF] a bill [HB 444 text, PDF] that would have allowed same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The bill, which would have conferred upon homosexual and heterosexual couples rights and benefits equal to those afforded married couples in the state, was approved by the House in April after the vote was initially postponed [JURIST reports] in January. The state Senate approved the bill [JURIST report] in January. Tuesday was the last day Lingle could veto the bill before it would have become law without her signature. In the statement announcing her veto [text, PDF] Lingle said that she felt that the bill was "essentially marriage by another name." She also indicated that the issue should be voted on in a public referendum, stating:
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. The subject of this legislation has touched the hearts and minds of our citizens as no other social issue of our day. It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials. And while ours is a system of representative government it also is one that recognizes that, from time to time, there are issues that require the reflection, collective wisdom and consent of the people and reserves to them the right to directly decide those matters. This is one such issue.Rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union-Hawaii (ACLU-HI) [advocacy website], have indicated they will be filing a lawsuit [press release] challenging the state's ban on same-sex civil unions as a violation of the Hawaiian Constitution's [materials] prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The state of Hawaii has been at the forefront of the gay rights movement since the 1990s [timeline]. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court [official website] ruled [case backgrounder] that the state must show a compelling reason to deny same-sex marriage, but, in 1998, Hawaiian voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to reserve for the state legislature the authority to define marriage. Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] or recognize same-sex civil unions. In March, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] denied an emergency appeal to prevent Washington DC's same-sex marriage law from taking effect. Chief Justice John Roberts, acting as circuit justice for the DC area, denied [JURIST report] an application [text, PDF] requesting a stay pending further review of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 [text, PDF]. With that, DC became the sixth US jurisdiction to allow for same-sex marriages, joining Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports]. Same-sex civil unions are currently recognized in Washington, New Jersey, Oregon and Nevada [JURIST reports].