UPDATED 10/14/11 2 p.m.

Linda Lingle described her veto of Hawaii civil unions as perhaps the most difficult decision she made in eight years as governor.

She spent more than two months studying the legislation and meeting with supporters and opponents, sessions she described as highly emotional. Some 30,000 phone calls, e-mails and faxes flooded her office.

So difficult was the decision that Lingle waited until the last possible day — July 6, 2010 — to veto the measure.

And yet, Lingle made no mention of her tough decision when she announced her U.S. Senate bid this week. It’s not part of her official biography, which includes her actions while in office, campaign platform or list of achievements.

At that time, facing a bill that was passed in a surprising move on the last day of the legislative session, Lingle presented herself as standing up for the public, for the people’s right to decide such an important issue.

Yet Lingle did not mention civil unions on the website she posted just after leaving office in December — Looking Back, and Forward: The Lingle Years.

That site includes a section titled Department Accomplishments — a staggering 51,000-words on everything from airport modernization to homelessness, from rabies to sex offenders, from government transparency to earthquakes.

Those 51,000 words include “civil” and “unions,” as in civil defense and labor unions — but not “civil unions.”

Lingle says she should be judged on her record. Why so quiet, then, about her toughest call as an executive?

Changing Times

“She really doesn’t have anything to add that she hasn’t already said before,” said her communications director, Lenny Klompus.

But, Lingle’s views on the rights of same-sex couples are bound to come up during the campaign. They are already an issue in the presidential election, with most GOP candidates opposed to gay marriage and Barack Obama, too (although he is reported to be warming to the idea).

Democrats Ed Case and Mazie Hirono are on the record in their support for gay rights and their opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The Democrat Lingle hopes to serve with in Washington — Daniel K. Inouye — and the Democrat she hopes to replace — Daniel Akaka — hold similarly supportive records.

The nation is at a different point than it was in the summer of 2010. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer the policy of the U.S. military, and New York is now the largest state to permit gay marriage.

Here at home, civil unions were signed into law by Lingle’s successor as governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie.

In May, Civil Beat asked Lingle whether her veto placed her on the wrong side of history. She said it did not, and reiterated her view that civil unions should have been a ballot issue, not a legislative or executive decision.

But, as Adrienne LaFrance reported this week in her DC808 blog after Lingle announced her Senate run, national gay rights groups have not forgotten the veto.

The Big Veto

How big of a deal was Lingle’s veto of civil unions? Read our report of June 22, 2010, the day the governor gave notice of her veto intent:

Lingle says she knows of no other legislation she has had to consider that will have as great an impact on both sides of the issue. After 30 years in public office, she says sometimes her personal views on issues have “carried the day,” but sometimes not.

Though it is “perhaps” the most difficult decision in her career, civil unions “doesn’t alter my daily activity, obligations and responsibilities… But it is something I think about every day. The fact that you media people talk so much about this is really a reflection of how much this community cares about this on both sides. You can’t expect me to be any different.”

When the big day finally came, the Lingle administration posted a ticking clock on her official website, as if it were New Year’s Eve.

She invited key figures on both sides of the issue to the fifth floor executive chambers for her announcement, including the former Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice whose 1993 opinion marked the beginning of the state’s debate on gay rights. Parents of gay children were there, too, as well as members of same-sex couples married in other states.

Outside, throughout the Capitol, thousands of supporters and opponents waited in anxious anticipation, many praying, others dancing and singing.

And then it came: “I am vetoing this bill because I have become convinced that this issue is of such societal importance that it deserves to be decided by all the citizens of Hawaii,” Lingle said.

The decision was welcomed by Democrat Mufi Hannemann and Republican James “Duke” Aiona, who were running for governor. The issue was brought up repeatedly during the campaign, where Abercrombie said again and again that he would sign civil unions if it came across his desk.

Conservative religious groups, meanwhile, circulated voter guides that listed candidates’ positions on same-sex rights.

That November, however, candidates who supported gay rights crushed candidates who did not. Three months later, the Hawaii Legislature passed and Gov. Abercrombie signed new civil unions legislation.

UPDATE

Hawaii civil unions take effect Jan. 1, 2012.1

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