Governor Vetoes Civil Unions
A rush transcript of her remarks, and the subsequent Q&A with the media, follows:
Aloha everyone and welcome. I wanted to let the media know first of all that at the conclusion of the news conference today, you’ll receive the entire list of vetoes and a news release, but I’m confining my remarks to House Bill 444. The people in the room here are all invited today, besides members of the media, there are members of the legislature, my cabinet, and representatives of the community, both for and against HB 444. I hope that the citizens on both sides of this issues felt that I treated them with respect and dignity throughout the process. Because I give my decision in the first sentence of my written statement, I’m going to ask everyone to afford me the same dignity and respect I’ve tried to afford you through this process, and not to react. I know I’m asking a lot of you, because of the depth of emotion that people feel on this issue, but I nevertheless am asking you to please refrain from any outburst of any kind, running from the room, or anything like that. Again I want to thank everyone for the help that I’ve received throughout this process.
After months of listening to Hawaii citizens express to me in writing and in person their deeply held beliefs and heartfelt reasons for supporting or opposing the civil unions bill, I have made the decision to veto House Bill 444. I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same gender marriage and find that HB444 is essentially marriage by another name. However, I want to be clear that my personal opinion is not the basis for my decision against allowing this legislation to become law. Neither is my veto based on my religious beliefs for the political impact it might have on me or anyone else of either political party in some future election.
I am vetoing this bill because I have become convinced that this issue is of such societal importance, that it needs to be decided by all the people of Hawaii. The subject of this legislation has touched the hearts and minds of our citizens like no other social issue of our day. It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials. While ours is a system of representative government, it also is one that recognizes from time to time, there are issues that require the reflection, collective wisdom, and consent of the people, and reserves to them the right to decide those matters. This is one such issue.
The legislative maneuvering that brought HB444 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 the bill was dead, was wrong and unfair to the public they represent. After eight years of observing members of the majority party manipulate the legislative process when it suits them, I initially accepted their actions as business as usual. That was wrong, too.
There has not been a bill I have contemplated more, or an issue I have thought more deeply about, during my nearly eight years as governor, as HB444 and the institution of marriage. After listening to those both for and against HB444, I have gained a new appreciation for just how deeply people of all ages and backgrounds feel on this matter, and how significantly they believe the issue will affect their lives.
Few could be unmoved by the poignant story told to me in 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. I was similarly touched by a mother who, in the same office, expressed anguish at the prospect of the public schools teaching her children that a same-gender was equivalent to their mother and father’s marriage. In addition to meeting in person with citizens of differing opinions, I have read legal memos on both sides of the issue. Some urging me to veto the bill because of unintended consequences and guaranteed years of court battles, while oters urged support for what they consider a legally sound bill that grants long overdue civil rights.
But in the end it wasn’t the persuasiveness of public debates, the soundness of legal arguments, or the volumes of letters and emails that convinced me to reach this decision. it was the depth of emotion felt on both sides of the issue that revealed to me how fundamental the institution of marriage is to our community. It is as fundamental to those who support marriage between two people of the same gender as it is to those who support marriage only between one man and one woman.
This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office, or the members of a majority party behind closed doors in a legislate caucus. But by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth.
As difficult as the past few weeks have been, I am comfortable with my decision, while knowing full well that many will be disappointed by it. And while some will disagree with my decision to veto this bill, 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. 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 the majority of people believe reflects the values of Hawaii.
Q: Were you thinking about choosing another option? How tense was that?
A: I made the decision about a week ago, and as I reported earlier, I had gone back and forth in my feeling about the right thing to do. And the reason, even though I personally do not support same-gender marriage, the reason I had gone back and forth was the arguments made by the people who supported HB444. Not just the depth of feeling that they had, as that existed on both sides, but the persuasiveness of their argument. I thought they had good points to make, and I think they’re the kind points that I think should be made to the broader public.
Q: Broad legislative process aside, were there other legal, moral, ethical issues?
A: There were a lot of legal issues that were brought up in papers, again, both pro and con.
Q: As a policy amker, what would you say if critics said you’re just passing the buck. As a policy maker sometimes you have to make difficult decisions beyond the voter.
Q: I don’t think anyone could characterize this as anything less than a difficult decision, and I don’t think it can be characterized as not addressing the issue, because I’ve told you up front my own personal beliefs. Rather than saying ‘Well, I don’t want to say what I feel, but it just wasn’t the way I think it should be handled.’ I’m doing both of those things. I’m telling you my personal opinion. I’m also recognizing the persuasiveness of those who feel differently than I do. And I’m saying ultimately this should be decided by all the people in Hawaii.
Q: Civil unions, or same sex marriage, or…
A: Well I think it’s the kind of issue that legislators should deal with in a reasoned, calm fashion during the session, so that everybody knows what it is that’s being put on the ballot. People, when they look at HB444, some people said it doesn’t mean the same as marriage, some people said it does mean the same as marriage. Some people believed in 1998 they were voting against having same-gender marriage or civil unions only to find out that they didn’t. So again I think having an entire legislative session to draft an appropriate question is the right way to do it.
Q:Can you explain why you think gay marriage is synonymous with civil unions? That seems to be what you’re saying.
A: No, I’m saying I think HB444, because of its plain language, is essentially the same. Because it has the same rights, responsibilities, benefits, and protections.
Q: So you didn’t do this ultimately as a civil rights issue, is that accurate?
A: Well, I’ll leave that for you to characterize.
Q: Do you believe this will be the issue that defines your tenure as the governor. Can you restate that again?
A: I think this will be the most watched decision that I’ve ever made, but hopefully over the course of time people will recognize that moving our state towards energy independence, bringing science and technology into the schools, maintaining fiscal accountability, appointing outstanding members of the judiciary… hopefully my administration will be seen in its totality rather than being defined by any one of those topics, whether it’s HB444 or any of the other areas I mentioned. I think any elected official hopes their time in office is judged as a whole rather than just one piece of it.
Q: You did say it should be a vote of the people but how much did the legal battles play into your decision? The lawsuits?
A: Everything that came up, a legal memorandum, the persuasiveness of both sides, everything had an impact on me. In the end I came to believe that this was I shouldn’t decide ultimately for the state by myself. It was something everyone should have a chance to vote on.
Q: If in fact your administration is judged on the basis of HB444, obviously you feel good about your decision?
A: I do. I feel very comfortable with my decision. I don’t want to characterize it in the terms you just chose. Because again I have so much respect for the people who trusted me throughout this process, who came in and shared their deepest feelings with me. So knowing how strongly people felt on both sides, I’m not going to say it was… use the kind of adjective that you chose, but just describe my own feeling, which is, I’m comfortable with this decision. I think I gave it the dignity it deserved.
Q: How did the legislature’s announcement that they weren’t coming back into session change… did that play on you at all?
A: It didn’t have any impact whatsoever on my decision.
Q: Are you prepared for the criticism you might face both here at home and in the national media?
A: Well I think any time someone runs for office, they know some of their decisions will be liked and some won’t. As I said before, this will be the most watched decision. And I hope the process I undertook will be something people can respect. The fact that I state my own personal opinion is something that people can respect, and my confidence in the community to make a good decision when it’s put to them, I hope they respect that as well.
Q: A lot can happen before the next session as far as lawmakers. What do you think are the chances that it does get put to a vote this next session?
A: I would be surprised if this does not go on the next available ballot. I would be very surprised. I would encourage lawmakers to do it. Whether it’s those who are in office now or those who are not. When you have an issue like this that is so deeply felt by so many people in the community, I really think it’s important to put it on the ballot and let people decide so that we can all move on. I think it should be phrased in a way, however, that makes it clear what people are voting on.
Q: What was the final tally of the opinions that came into your office?
A: I don’t know the final tally, I didn’t get numbers throughout the week. When I made the decision, it was about a week ago, I started writing my statement on Friday when I left the Capitol, and I don’t know throughout the weekend what those numbers are.
Q: Do you think last time it was put to voters, it wasn’t as clear as it could have been, and this time it would be better?
A: Obviously it wasn’t clear last time, because people didn’t understand why it was coming up again. Because they thought they had settled the issue. And that fact in itself proves that people weren’t clear on it.
Q: How can they make it clear? What should the question be?
A: Well, I’ll leave that to the next attorney general and legislators to figure that out. But I would say as un-legalistic as possible would be a preference.
Q: Do you think that’s a fair question for the next person who wants to take your office in the coming election, whether they would commit to a ballot question?
A:I do think so. And I would expect anyone running for office would support putting it to the people after watching what has happened over these past couple of months. Thank you guys very much for coming, and thank you all.