Legal Battle Looms Following 'No Vote' on Hawaii Civil Unions

Gay rights group Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation are planning to take legal action against the state of Hawaii after the State House of Representatives declined to vote last week on legislation to legalize civil unions in the Aloha State.

The two groups announced Monday their intention to sue, saying that they "have no choice now but to bring our clients' legal claims to court" because the Legislature "ducked its responsibility multiple sessions in a row."

"Enough is enough. Infinite patience in the face of discrimination is irresponsible," said Jennifer C. Pizer, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal.

"Once again, lawmakers' continued failure to support what's fair and right will leave many constituent families vulnerable under the current reciprocal beneficiary laws," added Lois Perrin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii.

Last Friday, Hawaii lawmakers decided by a voice vote to defer further action on HB 444, which sought to extend the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to "partners in a civil union" – both homosexual and heterosexual.

The week before, the Senate had voted 18-7 to pass the bill, giving it enough votes to override a possible veto from Gov. Linda Lingle.

Though the House had passed the bill last year just one short of a two-thirds majority, it declined to vote on the latest version, which – unlike the original – applies to both homosexual and heterosexual couples.

Though the move did not bring closure to the issue, it was welcomed by supporters of traditional marriage who say HB 444 undermines the institution of marriage and the will of the Hawaiian people, who in 1998 voted 70 to 30 percent to affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman.

They say gay civil unions are "same-sex marriage by another name."

"We're a very tolerant society, but I don't think we're willing to accept same-sex marriage, or as they call it, civil unions," said Dennis Arakaki, head of the Hawaii Family Forum and Hawaii Catholic Conference.

If HB 444 had been voted on and passed, Hawaii would have joined states such as California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington in essentially granting all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.

Five states – Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut – currently have legalized same-sex marriage.