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Should Gays Boycott Hawaii Over Civil Unions Veto? Or Is Hawaii the Next Marriage Battleground State?

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Sunset over Lava flow"Sad day," someone said just minutes after Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill the state legislature passed in January.

Sad? How about: Are you kidding me? Civil unions? Not even the Yes on Prop 8/Protect Marriage crowd went after California's domestic partners bill, which is akin to civil unions in other states. Now LGBTs can't even get simple relationship protections in what many consider the most idealized romantic state in America. Even I know the Elvis song "Night and you, and Blue Hawaii....."

Facebook and Twitter lit up with calls for a boycott. It is a particular consideration for those in Southern California who pop over to Hawaii for a long weekend, believing it to be a warm, beautiful, welcoming state. How many might reconsider that trip now? Will the romantic sun set over Hawaii for LGBTs?

I spoke with Donald L. Bentz, Treasurer of Equality Hawaii, about three hours after the veto. Bentz had been treasurer for the Human Rights Task Force in Tampa, Florida and dealt with two ballot initiatives there. He had just finished singing along to the song "Fuck You, Fuck You Very Much" at a post veto-gathering.

"Right now we're very angry. We're disappointed. The governor basically said we are second-class citizens and we do not deserve protections. That is just atrocious," Bentz said, adding that they had already heard about calls from the mainland to boycott Hawaii. According to a 2008 report by Community Marketing Inc., gays spend $64 billion in the U.S. travel market. No doubt a chunk of that change is spent in Hawaii.

But for Religious Right watchers, this was actually a very significant victory in the culture wars, one the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church and extremist evangelicals have been talking about since at least 1997. And it's not over yet. Hawaii may be about to face another religious warfare akin to what LGBTs saw in California during Prop 8 with antigay forces crying for a decision about marriage equality to be made by a "vote of the people."

It had been a struggle to pass the civil unions bill and Tuesday, July 6 was the last day Lingle had to either sign or veto the bill. There was so much anticipation -- state legislators had already said they would not override a veto -- her 3:00pm news conference was streamed live.  And then Lingle said:

"There has not been a bill I have contemplated more or an issue I have thought more deeply about during my eight years as governor than House Bill 444 and the institution of marriage. I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-sex marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially same sex marriage by another name."

Jeremy Hooper posted the audio of the news conference at Good As You and longtime journalist Rex Wockner posted these quotes from Lingle:

"I am vetoing this bill because I have become convinced that this issue is of such societal importance that it deserves to be decided by all the people of Hawaii. ... 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. ... 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."

"The legislative maneuvering that brought House Bill 444 to an 11th-hour vote on the final day of the session via a suspension of the rules, after legislators led the public to believe that the bill was dead, was wrong and unfair to the public they represent. ... This is a decision that should (be made) by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth."

"A vote by all the people of Hawaii is the best and fairest way to address (this) issue. ... I have done my very best to reach a reasoned decision in a manner that brings honor to the political process and that I hope a majority of people believe reflects the values of Hawaii."

The Associated Press reported that "a group of about 20 civil unions opponents raised their hands, closed their eyes and said blessings in front of the office doors of key lawmakers. They wore white shirts in a show of unity and buttons declaring "iVote," a promise of consequences come November if civil unions become law."

AP reported that "about 60 percent of the more than 34,000 letters, telephone calls, e-mails and other communications from the public to the governor asked her to veto the measure, the governor's aides said late last week."

White shirts and tons of phone calls. Sounds familiar to Prop 8 veterans. Some people on the mainland were already recalling the Mormon Church's involvement in the Prop 8 battle. John Wright of the Dallas Voice wrote:

"Remember, Hawaii has the second-highest concentration of Mormons of any state in the U.S., next to Utah. More than 60,000 Mormons live in Hawaii, or about 5 percent of the overall population. As someone who lived in Utah for three years, I can't help but wonder how much the church had to do with Gov. Linda Lingle's decision on Tuesday to veto a civil unions bill."

But Bentz said that, since the Mormon Church "took such a bruising after Prop 8, they were very silent and any involvement would be hard to document. But I heard they were funneling money in. Mostly this was the Catholics and evangelicals." And what was really "bizarre," Bentz said, was that most of them were not Hawaiian.

Not so bizarre, really, if you consider how Hawaii was "ground zero" for both the marriage equality movement and the antigay religious forces in the early 1990s. In 1993, in Baehr v. Lewin (changed to Baehr v. Miike, a case originally brought under gender discrimination)) the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must prove why it prohibited same-sex marriage. Same sex marriage was not really on anyone's radar so soon after the election of pro-gay Bill Clinton, whom the conservative right thought was the epitome of the 1960s' "counter-culture" movement. Conservative and religious coalitions came together quickly and led to the movement for "defense of marriage" constitutional amendments, including the Defense of Marriage Act that Clinton signed in 1996.

But as gay progressive blogger Dante Atkins noted on Daily Kos just days before the Prop8 vote in the 2008 elections in California, an internal memo from the Mormon Church dated March 4, 1997 discussed strategies for combating marriage equality ("HLM" - homosexual legal marriage?) in Hawaii and California using the Catholic Church as a front.

Mormon ltrLDSmemopage

Mormon ltr 2Atkins noted this in the last paragraph, "There may have to be certain legal rights recognized for unmarried people..." implying, he felt, that if the Mormon Church "had its way, [it] wouldn't even want to see gay couples have hospital visitation rights.  It's not just about marriage--for them, it's about making gays into second-class citizens. Even hospital rights are a 'concession' that have to be made to prevent full marriage equality."

The memo specifically addresses joining Catholics in Hawaii:

Mormon ltr Catholic

As for the evangelicals - Religious Right watcher Bruce Wilson has long warned of this coming battle, including last April in LGBT POV.  As I noted then, Wilson has been writing about this shadowy Christian Right movement called the International Transformation Network and its leader Ed Silvoso for quite some time now on the Talk to Action website. Wilson was one of the first to warn about the significance of TheCall's ranting Lou Engles who threw that huge antigay pro-Prop 8 rally in San Diego and has since gone to support antigays in Uganda. In a 2009 post, Wilson wrote that Prop 8 was the proving ground for what he calls the New "Rainbow" Right.

Wilson reports that Ed Silvoso feels he owns both the Democratic and the Republican candidates for Hawaii governor in the 2010 race and is already planning the victory celebration, on November 9-13, 2010. [Wilson covers activities of Silvoso's Hawaii organization in his 20-page report "Transforming Hawaii", part 1 & part 2].

Hawaii Lt gov />In this video, Silvoso blesses and anoints Lt. Governor James "Duke" Aiona in a November 7, 2009 ceremony. In 2004, Aiona dedicated Hawaii and its public schools to Jesus and, Wilson reports, "Aiona is the ITN's main horse" in the Hawaii 2010 gubernatorial race. But If Aiona doesn't win there's a backup plan:

"It doesn't matter if the Republican or the Democratic candidate wins the governorship [of Hawaii]. Either one is already in the kingdom," declared International Transformation Network Founder and CEO Ed Silvoso at the March 4-6 Convergence 2010 conference in Dallas, as Silvoso was announcing the ITN's upcoming 20th Institute On Nation Transformation conference, scheduled to be held November 9-14, 2010 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village near Honolulu."

Hawaii News Now reports that, in response to the veto,

"Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said if he were elected governor, he would propose a constitutional amendment "so the people can define marriage once and for all."

Aiona commended the governor for making "a courageous decision" to veto the bill. But he also blasted the legislature for trying to put pressure on the governor by not calling for a special session to override vetoes.

"To put that kind of pressure on one person, especially during an election year, and knowing how this issue is falling, that's just totally unfair," Aiona said.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, campaigning today on Kauai, issued a statement, saying he "firmly support steps to let the people of Hawaii have the final say on an issue that has generated passionate perspectives.

"I continue to believe that marriage between a man and a woman is sacrosanct," Hannemann said, and added, "That said, as someone who has fought to overcome prejudice, I would also continue to champion the civil rights of all citizens and seek to end discrimination-in employment, housing, health care, and areas where it still exists-irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious preference."

While the idea of "direct democracy" is romantic - letting "the people decide" through the initiative process has royally screwed up California's economy and of courses raises serious questions about the purpose of having elected state "representatives."

Don BentzBentz, who said he cried when Prop 8 passed, also noted the horror of having "the people" decide on the civil rights of a minority.  "That's like saying, 'Let's put slavery up to a public vote," he said. "It's too big an issue to be decided on the ballot. It's ridiculous." Nonetheless, it's what Hawaii may well face, with the Religious Right working towards an outcome like California or Maine.

As for a boycott of Hawaii, Bentz said he understands the inclination but it poses a "quandary" for a lot of businesses in the tourism industry. Last April, the right-wing-lead executive committee of a business roundtable sent a letter to the governor urging her to veto the civil unions bill. Bentz said the full membership didn't know the letter was being sent - and it forced them to take a stand, which many did, calling for full marriage equality. A boycott, Bentz said, would hurt those businesses - the airlines and hotels with progressive policies. Bentz said Equality Hawaii will have to discuss how to proceed with other LGBT groups and allies after they cool down and can "think logically." They may consider a "buycott" which directs LGBT spending to specific businesses with good LGBT policies, and an implicit "boycott" everything else.

"Right now we are all raw emotions," he said. "This is really difficult. There is a lot of anger. We know people on the mainland are already calling for a boycott. So do we get behind that? How do we want our friends and allies on the mainland to know where we want to be?"

Asked whether he thought Lingle voted the civil unions bill because she didn't want negative attention brought to her as a closeted lesbian - Bentz laughed:

"I find that bizarre. The rumor mill is out there that she's a lesbian. But if she didn't want to be outed - signing or letting the bill become law would have been the best thing to do. This is one of the few times when I think outing is appropriate because of her role as a public official. So if there are any former girlfriends out there - this is the time to speak up."

Meanwhile JoeMyGod posted on Twitter: CALL NOW!! Hawaii Chamber of Commerce - 800-545-4300. Hawaii Visitors & Conventions Bureau - 800-464-2924 #boycott #hawaii #hb444

And Lambda Legal and the ACLU announced they are suing the state to provide civil unions. This is from their joint press release:

"Hawai'i's constitution was amended in 1998 to allow the Legislature to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, which it has done.  This means same-sex couples cannot sue for full equality through marriage.  Although civil unions are a lesser status than marriage, they would provide a full range of state law protections and duties to gay and lesbian couples, such as access to family court to dissolve the legal status in an orderly way, clear duties to pay child support and alimony as spouses must, and other vital protections.  Bills to offer civil unions have been under steady consideration in the Hawai'i Legislature each year since 2001."

LGBTs await word from Hawaii as to what they propose for the next steps. But Angelenos might want to consider saving the money they'd spend on a long weekend get-away for the impending fight with the Religious Right to have fairness and equality shine in sunny Hawaii.