HONOLULU (BP)--Barely a year after some 15,000 Christians successfully rallied in opposition to same-sex civil unions at the Hawaii capitol, newly elected Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law Feb. 23 legalizing such unions, thus making Hawaii the 12th state to recognize either "gay marriage," civil unions or their equivalent.
The new law -- which takes effect in January 2012 -- will grant same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, without the name "marriage."
For the state's faith community, it was a disheartening end to a long political and public relations battle that saw several major victories along the way.
In 2009, around 10,000 Christians rallied at the capitol and put enough pressure on the legislature that it ended the session without passing a civil unions bill. Last year's rally of 15,000 -- as well as follow-up contacts and visits -- didn't stop the legislature from passing the bill, but it did help pressure then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, to veto it.
So, how did opponents end up losing? Simple: Abercrombie, a Democrat, won the election. With Lingle term-limited, Abercrombie defeated Republican nominee and civil unions opponent Duke Aiona, 58-41 percent during an election year when, elsewhere, Democrats struggled. A former U.S. representative from Hawaii, Abercrombie made clear during the campaign he would sign the bill. He said the civil unions "respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha."
The Hawaii house passed it this year, 31-19, the senate, 18-5.
Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, said Christians and pro-family groups should learn from Hawaii.
"One of the great strategies of a lot of activist groups -- including homosexuals -- is to wear the other side down. I think everybody is tired," Lazor told Baptist Press. "I wish that weren't true, but we should have shown far better than we did in the fall election."
Also, Lazor said, the public is "more and more" in favor of civil unions, considering them a middle ground without realizing that in other states -- Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire -- civil unions have been used as a stepping stone to "gay marriage." Daniel Gluck, an attorney with ACLU of Hawaii, said that despite the new law, the push for "gay marriage" will continue.
"This is one step towards marriage equality but we will continue to fight until all of Hawaii's families have the same rights, benefits and responsibilities," Gluck said.
Opponents of civil unions had hoped to make gains in the legislature last fall but mostly failed. Too many of their candidates, Lazor said, made statements that alienated voters.
"You have that battle in your own heart: Do I stand up for my convictions no matter what they say about me, or do I learn how to -- without compromise -- speak in terms that the world who doesn't know God will understand?" Lazor said. "Some of our guys were more interested in a crusade than they were winning the election."
Already, one homosexual leader has acknowledged he hopes the law will lead to schools teaching about homosexuality in sex-education classes.
"It's not going to be one or the other. Now there's only heterosexual relationships ," Tim Earhart, president of Dignity USA-Honolulu, told the Star-Advertiser newspaper. "At least 10 percent of us are being left out. It's making us feel bad because it leaves us out of the equation."
Christians in Hawaii and in other states, Lazor said, must not tire in standing for the truth.
"It is not a one-time battle," he said. "The strength of our position needs to be top-notch, and we need to show up, and we certainly need to show up for elections. That's where we had the best chance -- in the fall. Had we made good choices in November, this would be different today."
Hawaii joins California, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon and Washington in recognizing either civil unions or their equivalent, domestic partnerships. Five states recognize "gay marriage": Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont. By contrast, 29 states define marriage in their state constitutions as between a man and a woman.
Opponents of "gay marriage" warn legalization would have a wide-ranging effect on society, impacting the tax-exempt status of religious organizations, the religious liberty of private businesses and the curriculum in elementary schools.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com.
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