HONOLULU — Whether same-sex civil unions become law in Hawaii is now up to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, whose office was flooded Friday with phone calls and e-mails from gay rights and religious groups after the bill won approval in the waning moments of the legislative session.
Lingle has long avoided saying whether she would veto the measure or allow it to become law. She has until July 6 to make a decision.
The governor was unavailable for comment Friday as she was scheduled to return from a trip to California, but her office reported a high volume of calls pouring in from both opponents and supporters of the legislation.
The bill was unexpectedly revived and cleared the Legislature on Thursday, the last day of this year's session.
Religious groups don't plan the kind of large opposition rallies seen previously at the Hawaii Capitol. Instead, they will lobby Lingle directly with personal messages.
"She's kept it very close to the vest," said Dennis Arakaki, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference. "She won't let us know how she feels about it. Now we'll know. ... The ball is in her court."
He's sending e-mails to churches and text messages to supporters urging them to contact the governor's office to let her know how they feel about the issue.
Civil union backers will send handwritten letters and postcards to Lingle in addition to e-mails and phone calls asking her to approve the legislation, said Tony Wagner, Western Regional Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign.
"It's going to be important to keep up the pressure on the governor in order to demonstrate that there is support for this bill and for treating all families equally," Wagner said.
In addition, civil union supporters will likely take to the streets to wave signs as drivers pass by, he said.
Lingle has sent mixed signals: She wanted lawmakers to drop the issue because the state had more pressing budget matters to deal with, but she also said representatives should have put their votes on the record when they postponed a decision on the measure in January.
Her office sent an e-mail soliciting public comments on all legislation passed during this year's session. Civil unions weren't specifically mentioned.
"I encourage the public to continue to participate in the legislative process by providing input on the impact each piece of legislation would have on our state," Lingle said in the e-mail.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor this fall, wants the bill vetoed.
"If the Legislature wanted to establish the equivalent of same-sex marriage, they should have put it on the ballot for the people to decide," Aiona said in a statement. "This bill should not be allowed to become law."
If approved, Hawaii will become one of six states – along with California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington – to grant essentially all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.
Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage: Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The Aloha State has been a battleground in the gay rights movement since the early 1990s.
A 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling nearly made Hawaii the first state to legalize same-sex marriage before voters in the state overwhelmingly approved the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment in 1998.
The measure gave the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. It resulted in a law banning gay marriage in Hawaii but left the door open for civil unions.
"I don't know where the governor is going to be on this issue," said Tambry Young, co-chair of Equality Hawaii. "We're hoping she sees it as an equality issue."
Although Lingle has until July 6 to make a decision, her intentions will be known sooner. She must send the Legislature a list of bills that she'll potentially veto by June 22. Measures not on that list would become law, either with or without her signature.
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Hawaii Legislature: http://capitol.hawaii.gov/