Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have legalized same-sex civil unions.
"The subject of this legislation has touched the hearts and minds of our citizens as no other social issue of our day," she said as she announced her decision. "After months of listening to Hawaii citizens, ... their deeply held beliefs and heartfelt reasons ... I have made the decision to veto House Bill 444."
The bill would have granted same-sex couples the same rights and benefits that the state provides to married couples. Just as conservative family groups have argued, Lingle felt it was essentially same-sex marriage by another name.
During her nearly eight years in office, Lingle said there has never been an issue or piece of legislation that she has contemplated more on than the institution of marriage.
She made it clear that she listened to those both for and against the bill and acknowledged the "depth of emotion" tied to the issue.
"Few could be unmoved by the poignant story told to me and my office by a young big island man who recounted the journey he had taken to bring himself to tell his very traditional parents that he was gay," she said. "I was similarly touched by the mother who in the same office expressed anguish at the prospect of the public schools teaching her children that a same-gender marriage was equivalent to their mother and father's marriage.
"It was the depth of emotion felt by those on both sides of the issue that revealed to me how fundamental the institution of marriage is to our community."
In the end, she felt 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.
"I have become convinced that this issue is of such societal importance that it deserves to be decided by all the people of Hawaii," she said.
The bill was passed by the House last February and stalled in the Senate until January. House leaders then passed the bill on the final day of the legislative session in April.
While much of the public believed the bill was dead, family groups drew attention to the 11th hour vote and called supporters to write to the governor in opposition to the bill. Hundreds from churches and other organizations rallied over the past several months to let the state legislature know where they stand.
The Hawaii Family Forum, which works to preserve traditional marriage, called the House move "deceptive" and an attempt to "sneak the bill" to the governor's desk.
Gov. Lingle also denounced the last-minute action. She said on Tuesday that it was "wrong and unfair to the public."
"I hope most will agree that the flawed process legislators used does not reflect the dignity this issue deserves and that a vote by all the people of Hawaii is the best and fairest way to address an issue that elicits such deeply felt emotion by those both for and against."
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in five states and the District of Columbia.