The issue of civil-unions in Hawaii has been much debated over the past few years. The debate was brought to a head as HB444 made its way through both the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. HB444 is centered around Hawaii recognizing civil-unions made by heterosexual and homosexual couples. The legal recognition would allow for tax benefits, medical insurance, and various other benefits and protections that are currently afforded married couples under state laws. Opponents of the bill point to the potential decaying of marriage if civil-unions are adopted by the state of Hawaii. Proponents of the measure paint it as a civil-rights fight for equality and point to the possible economic boom to local businesses and tax revenues.
HB444 met a relatively quick death in the earlier session while up for vote in the Senate. It was understood by supporters and opponents alike, that the measure would be heard again during the 2010 session. The flow of events began quickly as the Senate passed the bill within a few weeks of opening the legislative session. The first hurdle had been passed. The bill was then sent to the House, which had originally created the legislation. Under pressure by the Governor and many opponents, House Speaker Calvin Say, indefinitely postponed any voting on the bill. The thought was to focus on the issues of the budget, teacher furloughs, job creation and boosting the down economy. The bill would sit dormant for nearly the entire session. With a huge groundswell of public participation, proponents of the bill rallied their supporters and flooded the legislature with pleas to bring back the bill for a final floor vote. Some opponents also argued for the bill to be brought for a final floor vote.
On the final day and in the final hours, HB444 was reintroduced to the House and promptly passed a final vote. Cheers went through the gallery of supporters. The bill is now sitting on the desk of Gov. Linda Lingle. She has the choice to sign the bill into law, veto the bill or do nothing and allow the bill to become law on its own. Gov. Lingle recently wrapped up meetings with delegations from both ends of the debate. She also was aided by a recent release by two University of Hawaii researchers on the economic effects of HB444 becoming law. Gov. Lingle has not released any timetable for her decision.
The recent report on the economic effects of HB444 on Hawaii was released earlier in the week. The report included some very interesting conclusions. One such conclusion stated that the state of Hawaii would not be saddled with a large monetary hit by extending services and transferring benefits to couples who enter into civil-unions. The report also seemed to poke a hole in the tourism aspect of the debate for proponents. The research found only slight bumps to the economy and tourism of areas in the country that have adopted similar measures as HB444. The report found that most of the visitors will have already entered into civil-unions and would be traveling here with their families. Initial response from proponents point to the fact that none of those areas have the tourism clout as Hawaii has. It seems to be an interesting debate that will continue even after the actions of Gov. Lingle.
HB444 has been a very polarizing issue for the state of Hawaii as well as the rest of the nation. The legislative session of 2010 will be remembered for the passage of the bill and could very well be immortalized if the legislation becomes law. From a prognosticator stand point, it seems that Gov. Lingle will weigh all of the arguments for and against the measure. She will also take an independent look at all the resources available to her on the matter. Hopefully Gov. Lingle will not allow political pressure or religious beliefs to cloud her decision. It is the hopes of this writer that she will allow the bill to become law.
Hawaii needs to lead on this issue. It is time we begin to earn our moniker as the “Aloha State.” If you haven’t shared your opinion on the issue, you can do so by contacting the Office of the Governor of Hawaii.
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