Gov. Linda Lingle on Monday bought herself two more weeks to make a decision on contentious legislation that would allow same-gender couples to form civil unions.
At a press conference at the state Capitol, Lingle announced the bill is one of 39 measures on a list of potential vetoes she was required to unveil by Monday.
She stressed that its appearance on the list doesn't necessarily mean it will be vetoed — although she said historically, that's what happens to most bills on the list.
The Republican governor said she is "still considering everyone's point of view" on the civil unions issue, which she called the most difficult of the measures still before her.
"What makes it the most difficult is the intensity of the feeling on the part of the public. I don't know of another bill that comes close to that," she said.
"I can tell you that throughout this process, I've gone back and forth" on whether to sign the bill, she added.
Lingle now has until July 6, when by law she must sign or veto the 39 measures, or allow them to become law without her signature. She said she will take until then to decide the fate of the civil unions legislation.
The bill would allow same- and opposite-gender couples to form civil unions, with almost all the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
Lingle's office has been deluged with almost 20,000 letters, faxes, e-mails and phone calls — the majority opposed to HB 444, according to the governor's staff.
Those opinions will be an important consideration, Lingle said. The governor didn't elaborate on why she needs two more weeks, but previously said she wants as much time as possible to weigh the bill and figure out how to communicate her decision to the public. The bill has been on her desk since May 3.
Supporters of the measure said Lingle did what they expected.
"Actually, I was pleased to hear that — that she is going back and forth on the issue," said Alan Spector, a board member with Equality Hawaii, one of the main groups advocating for civil unions. "It shows that she's still engaged in deep, thoughtful consideration of the bill."
But the head of another group backing the measure railed at the governor.
"Lingle has said in no uncertain terms that an individual's right to love and care for another person is of no interest to her or the Republican Party," said the Rev. Carolyn Golojuch, president of the Oahu chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Francis Oda, chairman of Hawaii Family Forum, which opposes the measure, said his group would continue to urge its members to send e-mails and letters, and make telephone calls, to the governor's office.
"We're gratified and hopeful for an eventual veto," he said.
Another foe said he was troubled by Lingle's remark that her opinion of the bill is wavering.
"It concerned me quite a bit because I thought our arguments were very valid or strong," said Garret Hashimoto, Hawaii Christian Coalition chairman. "The other side gives a strong passionate argument for their point of view. ... I believe she is listening to both sides."
Democratic legislative leaders said the civil unions bill may come up during an override session next month if Lingle vetoes it.
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said she believes there are sufficient votes in her chamber to override a Lingle veto. But House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro said he doubts there are in his.
"I think the votes that were 31 in favor are pretty firm, and the votes that are opposed are pretty firm," said Oshiro, a main sponsor of the measure. "So at this point, I don't anticipate us taking further action on that."
A two-thirds majority of House members, or 34, are required to override a veto.
Five states already 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.
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