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Rep. Mazie Hironi.
Former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, who vetoed the state's civil unions bill in 2010 and is now running for the U.S. Senate, was trounced in a debate by her Democratic opponent, U.S. Representative Mazie Hironi, on October 23, 2012. Representative Hironi, a marriage equality supporter, accused Lingle of insensitivity for inviting glbtq supporters to the press conference at which she vetoed the bill. Whereas Lingle said that there should be a referendum on marriage equality, Hironi touted her belief that marriage equality is a civil right.
A lawsuit seeking marriage equality is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, since January 1, 2012, same-sex couples in Hawaii have been able to enter into civil unions.
The road to civil unions in Hawaii was rocky because of Lingle's veto. In 2010, a civil unions bill was passed with comfortable but not veto-proof margins by Hawaii's House of Representatives and Senate. The bill would have conferred on partners in civil unions all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
However, after a long period of consulting with opponents and proponents of the bill, Republican Governor Linda Lingle prevented the bill from becoming law by vetoing it. In doing so, she called for a referendum on the issue.
The veto of the civil unions bill bitterly disappointed gay rights groups and supporters in Hawaii, but also sparked a call to action. The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Hawaii, and the lesbian-gay-transgendered caucus of the state Democratic Party worked hard to register voters and to campaign for the election of former Representative Neil Abercrombie as Governor of Hawaii in the 2010 election. Representative Abercrombie promised that if elected, he would happily sign the civil unions bill.
In 2011, with Governor Abercrombie having won a solid election victory, the legislature fast-tracked the civil unions bill that Governor Lingle had vetoed. In February, the state House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 31 to 18; in the Senate it was passed by a vote of 18 to 5. Declaring that the bill symbolized Hawaii's promise of equal rights and fairness, Governor Abercrombie signed it into law.
In the debate on October 23, as reported by On Top Magazine, Lingle said that she supports the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and would back a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
She said, "Well this is a question that I have spent an awful lot of time on as governor. And I know people have very strong feelings on both sides. It's something that I've wrestled with, President Obama has wrestled with it. I would certainly support putting this constitutional amendment on the ballot. Personally, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also think the people of Hawaii should be able to make that decision."
In contrast, Representative Hirono reiterated her support for marriage equality and criticized not only the former governor's veto of civil unions but also her method of doing so.
"We all remember when as governor she vetoed the civil unions bill and in doing so, before she vetoed it, she invited members of the LGBT leadership to join her. And they thought that she was going to sign that bill into law. And instead, right in front of them, the very group that had worked so hard to pass this legislation, she vetoed that bill. I thought that was extremely insensitive and disrespectful of their position," Hirono said.
Lingle's veto of the civil unions bill seems to have come back to bite her. In the most recent polls, Representative Hirono leads her by a 22-point margin in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka.
As Derrick DePledge reports in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "Political analysts had predicted that the gap would likely shrink after the August primary, but they might have underestimated Lingle's hurdle. The former governor, who left office two years ago with low job approval ratings, has been unable to separate herself from the more conservative national Republicans who want to take control of the Senate and defeat Hawaii-born President Barack Obama."
In the video excerpt from the October 23 debate, the candidates field the question about marriage equality.