It’s important for you to know right up front that we at Civil Beat were moved by the decision of the Hawaii State Legislature to grant couples who enter civil unions the same rights as married couples.

A segment of our population— friends and neighbors to many of us — has been treated unfairly under the law, and this bill rectifies that inequity.

That said, we recognize that there are many questions about the bill and what it will mean for Hawaii. At Civil Beat, we think that even though we have a predisposition to be supportive of a measure, we can still provide fair and accurate coverage of the many questions it raises.

Some of you might have wondered why no news of the decision appeared on our site until now. The truth is that during this period before our formal launch tomorrow — yes, tomorrow! — we’re making so many adjustments to the site and how we do our work that we’re not trying to cover events the way we will after May 4. But we wanted to write this today to make sure you knew that we do believe that civil unions is the kind of issue we should cover — because it raises such fundamental questions — and to give you an idea of how we’ll do it.

We believe it’s important for the health of our society and the effectiveness of our government to have open and civil debate, and we think civil unions is just the kind of topic that deserves that kind of discussion.

The lobbying of Gov. Linda Lingle began immediately after the bill was approved, with opponents seeking her veto and proponents hoping she’ll either sign the bill into law or let it become law without her signature. Her position isn’t yet known.

The bill would grant all civil unions, including gay and lesbian unions, the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples, without requiring religious leaders who oppose civil unions to perform ceremonies for those couples.

With our nation’s founding ideals of protecting individual liberty from a tyrannical majority, and its long tradition of bending the arc of justice to protect oppressed or excluded minorities, it’s important to ask how this latest vote compares with previous decisions to protect minorities, such as the desegregation of our schools and making public facilities accessible to the disabled.

Under the bill, a gay couple in a civil union will have “all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities” as a married couple. Exploring what that means for the couples but also for others will be a part of our coverage. As will be putting the decision into a historical perspective, not only here in Hawaii but also nationally and globally.

As we hope you’ve learned by now, our approach at Civil Beat is to write about issues in a way that provides you with background and perspective to help you understand them. We’ll do that with civil unions.

Where we are now is that the governor has until July 6 to decide what to do about the bill. In the meantime, we hope to host a dialogue — a civil dialogue, even — about civil unions, and to help you reach your own conclusion about whether or not a position against the bill is reasonable.

We hope you’ll join the conversation.

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