It’s baaack.

Supporters of House Bill 444, the controversial measure that would extend “the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union” — namely, gay and lesbian couples — want another vote before the state Legislature adjourns April 29. HB 444 requires a simple majority vote in the House to be sent to Gov. Lingle.

The hunch is that Lingle, a lame duck who has not flat-out stated she opposes civil unions, might let House Bill 444 become law, perhaps without her signature. One problem with that theory: Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, who strongly opposes same-sex unions, is courting the religious conservative vote in his campaign for governor. Another: It’s an election year, and state lawmakers may not wish to juggle another hot potato.

Undeterred, civil-unions supporters are unveiling a coordinated PR campaign in April that shows “mainstream community support” for HB 444’s passage. They believe Hawaii has mellowed since 1998, when voters chose by a hefty margin to amend the state Constitution to limit marriage to heterosexuals. (Lingle has expressed her support for that amendment.)

One wonders, though, whether Hawaii is focused on the wrong issue. Question: If marriage offers more legal rights than civil unions, as same-sex marriage advocates have long argued, why would anyone, especially heterosexual couples, settle for anything less?

Meanwhile, Perry v. Schwarzenegger — the case that challenges the constitutionality of California’s 2008 referendum that overturned a state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry — seems destined to land on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court and decide the law of the land.

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