Despite the efforts of conservative Christian groups to defeat candidates who support Hawaii civil unions, top opponents of House Bill 444 suffered losses in Saturday’s primary.

They include three well-known Democrats: Mufi Hannemann, Norman Sakamoto and Gary Okino.

The Democrats who opposed them — Neil Abercrombie, Brian Schatz and Blake Oshiro — respectively, each won by large margins. Each supports civil unions.

The result could mean that civil unions legislation may return in the 2011 legislative session.

“(The primary) was a win for equality and proof that supporting (GLBT) equality does not hurt legislators,” said Equality Hawaii Co-Chairman Alan Spector. “All legislators who voted ‘yes’ on HB 444 won their primary.” Equality Hawaii is the chief advocacy group for civil unions.

If Republicans Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan are elected governor and lieutenant governor, a version of HB 444 is as good as dead, however. Both strongly oppose civil unions.

And depending on the outcome of legislative races, Democrats may not have veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate.

(A recent Civil Beat poll also showed that voters are opposed 45-39 percent to lawmakers once again taking up the controversial issue.)

To be sure, a positive stance on civil unions didn’t guarantee support at the polls on Saturday.

Lieutenant governor candidates Gary Hooser and Lyla Berg, for example — who during their campaigns made a point of demonstrating strong allegiance with Hawaii’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community — finished in the back of the Democratic pack.

But another LG candidate and civil unions opponent, Bobby Bunda, also lost in that race.

State Rep. Roland Sagum of Kauai-Niihau, who also voted against HB 444, fell to fellow Democrat Daynette (Dee) Morikawa. She was endorsed by the Equality Hawaii Action Fund. Sagum was the only incumbent at the Legislature to be kicked out of office in the primary.

“We sent out a guide a few weeks ago to our 6,000 or so members,” said Jacce Mikulanec, co-chairmain of the Equality Hawaii Action Fund. “Of the 57 races we identified having candidates who support civil unions, our candidates were successful in 47 of them. We believe the guide was helpful.”

Equality Hawaii-backed candidates Mark Jun Hashem, Jason Bradshaw and Pohai Ryan, for example, each prevailed in contested Democratic primary races to fill vacancies in two House districts and one Senate district, respectively.

Jo-Ann M. Adams, chairwoman of the GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, called the primary results “a very strong affirmation about the fundamental values of aloha and inclusiveness.”

“Neil was the only governor candidate who said he would support civil unions, but to the people I talked with they said it was a no-brainer. They just don’t understand why we don’t already have it. It’s just a non-issue for them.” Adams said energy and the economy were bigger issues for most people.

General Outlook

When it comes to civil unions, the Nov. 2 general election may have a different outcome than the primary.

For one thing, Republicans have contestants in all 12 state Senate races and 46 of 47 state House races and nearly all of them oppose civil unions.

On the Senate side, 11 of those 12 Republicans would vote against a civil unions bill that would give same-sex couples the same parental, adoption and custody rights as married couples, according to a candidate survey produced by the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference.

The survey also says Democrat incumbent Will Espero, who voted “no” on HB 444, is “undecided” on the civil unions question.

On the House side, 34 of the 46 Republican candidates said “no” to the civil unions question, three were undecided and nine did not respond to the survey.

One Democrat who voted for civil unions, Tom Brower, is recorded as “undecided” in the survey.

Adams of the GLBT Caucus predicted Democrats would hold or pick up a couple of pro-civil union seats in the House.

“It’s even better in the Senate, now that we got rid of Bunda and Sakamoto,” she said.

(The GLBT Caucus wants the party to expel Gary Okino for his public support of GOP candidates. The effort may be moot now, as the term-limited Honolulu city councilman said he would retire after losing to Blake Oshiro.)

Equality Hawaii’s PAC is supporting Democrat Glen Wakai in Sakamoto’s District 15 seat.

But Bunda’s District 22 seat was won by Donovan Dela Cruz in the Democratic primary. Dela Cruz told Civil Beat he opposes HB 444.

“I would say it’s very premature to say there has been a referendum on civil unions,” said Garrett Hashimoto, chairman of the Hawaii Christian Coalition. “I was disappointed at Gary Okino’s loss. I know he came out in the press identified as a Jesus freak and all that, but I thought he would have done better.”

Many of Hashimoto’s other favored candidates, however, won in the primary.

“Certainly, everything points to the general election. That is where the real battle is going to shape up,” he said. “I am very satisfied with the Aiona-Finnegan team against Abercrombie-Schatz.”

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