On July 6, the day the Hawaii civil unions bill was vetoed, the fifth floor of the State Capitol was awash in a sea of pearl. The opponents of House Bill 444, who congregated outside the governor’s executive chambers, all wore white.
Other manifestations of faith were evident as well. Some opponents — gathered there that day by Hawaii Family Forum, a Christian socio-political advocacy group aligned with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu — prayed fervently and sang spiritual songs, while others fell to their knees and lifted their arms in worship.
As the appointed hour of 3 p.m. neared — counted down by a ticking clock on the governor’s own website — the ivory flock swelled in size, soon dwarfing the rainbow-clad proponents of HB 444 who held court on the ground floor Rotunda five floors below.
When the veto announcement came, some shouted, “Hallelujah!”
And so it was that in an ostensibly liberal state — where Democrats control nearly every lever of power, where the color on the quadrennial electoral map is as blue as the Pacific — Hawaii once again denied full spousal rights and benefits for gays and lesbians.
This in a state that actually launched the gay-marriage movement 20 years ago, and that was a pioneer in establishing abortion rights, pre-paid health care and equal rights for women four decades ago.
Is the national red tide washing over Hawaii?
To be sure, Hawaii history has been heavily influenced by Christian values since the arrival of Protestant missionaries from New England in the 1820s. That influence continues through the present day. For example, Good Friday is not an official U.S. holiday, but it is a state holiday in Hawaii.
But to recall just how blue Hawaii is (or was), consider some milestones in modern history:
Hawaii was one of the first states (in 1970) to liberalize abortion laws.
Hawaii was one of the first states (in 1972) to change its constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment for women.
Hawaii was the first state (in 1974) to set minimum standards of health-care benefits for workers.
Capitol punishment was repealed by the Territorial Legislature in 1957.
Consider as well the blue tint of notable people and movements that Hawaii has produced:
Hawaii’s admission to statehood (in 1959) was opposed by some U.S. senators who argued the territory was rife with communists.
Barack Obama is the first U.S. president born in Hawaii.
LBJ wanted Humbert Humphrey to pick U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye to be his running mate (in 1968). Inouye delivered the keynote address that year at the Chicago convention.
The late Patsy Mink was the first Asian American to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party (in 1972).
Hawaii has the second-higest concentration (23.5 percent) of unionized workers.
Hawaii is consistently ranked as among the worst states to do business.
Now, consider more recent developments that suggest a reddening of the body politic:
Linda Lingle was the first Republican governor elected in Hawaii (in 2002) in 40 years.
Dick Cheney campaigned in Hawaii just days before the 2004 presidential election because polls showed Hawaii might vote to re-elect President George W. Bush. (John Kerry ended up with just under 54 percent of the vote to Bush’s 45 percent.)
The Republican National Committee held its winter meeting in January at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Karl Rove has made two campaign fundraising trips to Hawaii this year.
Two of the leading candidates for governor — Democrat Mufi Hannemann and Republican James “Duke” Aiona — are known for having strong religious beliefs. The same goes for two of the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, Republican Lynn Finnegan and Democrat Norman Sakamoto.
The Hawaii Republican Party has identified a legislator’s voting record on HB 444 as a campaign issue this year.
Look as well at some of the controversial issues and events that have distinguished state politics and government in recent years:
In 1996, about a half-dozen progressive Democrats in the state Legislature lost re-election because of their support for same-sex marriage.
The 1998 constitutional amendement that effectively banned same-sex marriage was approved by 70 percent of voters. A Democrat-controlled Legislature put the question on the ballot.
In 1999, about a dozen legislators came under fire from Hawaii Citizens for Separation of Church and State for putting the Christian fish symbol or the Jewish Star of David and other religious symbols on their office doors. The Hawaii attorney general opined it wasn’t a problem, but most of the lawmakers took the symbols down anyway.
In 2001, the Democrat-run Legislature overrode a veto from the Democrat governor — the first time that has happened since 1959 — of a bill that raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.
The teaching of biblical creationism was proposed by a Hawaii Board of Education member in 2001.
Physician-assisted suicide — “death with dignity” — has been put out of its misery every time it has been introduced here, helped by opposition of groups like Hawaii Family Forum.
Hawaii is one of only two states — the other is Utah — that prohibits any form of gambling. Ironic, given that Hawaiian Airlines and Las Vegas would collapse were it not for the enthusiasm of locals for Sin City.
Religious conservatives have opposed (thus far unsuccessfully) the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected classification in state public-accommodations laws (2006) and in public schools (2000).
The Legislature’s proclamation, in 2009, of Sept. 24 as Islam Day infuriated conservatives across the state and nation.
Yes, yes … there are plenty of counter examples to all those bullet points above. To name three: Democrats hold almost all the real power in Hawaii and have for half a century, Lingle was elected because she faced weak Democrats and succeeded an unpopular governor, and Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa split the Democratic vote, sending Djou to D.C.
What’s clear, though, is that Hawaii is simply not the same place it was 40 years ago. Immigration and birth-rate patterns have changed — there are more Filipinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, Samoans, Micronesians and haole from California, for example — and Catholics are the single-largest religious denomination. The Mormon religion has grown its presence here, and evangelical New Hope-type churches seem to bloom like plumeria trees.
Don’t forget all the military personnel and their dependents stationed on Oahu — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — and other U.S. Department of Defense employees, either. When they retire, many stay in Hawaii rather than go to Florida.
It’s no coincidence that Abercrombie, the former Vietnam War protester who once sported a ponytail, helped shovel a lot of federal money to Oahu bases during his 20 years in Congress.
He’s running for governor now. He came of age politically in the 1960s and was elected for the first time in Hawaii in the progressive era of the 1970s. But Hawaii isn’t the same place anymore.
To quote another veteran of the 1960s, “It’s all over now, Baby Blue.”