The governor placed the bill on her potential veto list, which gives her 10 working days -- or until July 6 -- to decide whether to veto, sign or allow the bill to become law without her signature.
Lingle, who leaves office after two terms later this year, has said she did not want civil unions to be her legacy. But she has not tried to minimize the impact of her decision and said yesterday she has gone back and forth in her mind.
Lingle has described civil unions as drafted in the bill as equivalent to same-sex marriage, which she opposes.
"I've been in public office a very, very long time. And my personal opinion is not necessarily the one that I end up with, and especially in important cases," the governor said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
The bill would grant same-sex and heterosexual couples the ability to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.
Lingle said she is taking the full amount of time available under state law not just because of the public interest or to make the best decision, but to present her decision in an appropriate way.
"When the decision gets made, we all have to live together here in Hawaii," she said. "Whichever way this goes, we're still one ohana. You may disagree with me, but we're still living on an island together."
The governor will likely have the final word on civil unions this year. State House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea, Halawa Valley, Aiea Heights), the bill's sponsor, said the House does not have the two-thirds' vote necessary to override a veto.
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli, Makaha) said she believes she has the two-thirds' vote for an override. But the Senate would likely not act unless it was clear both chambers would override.
"We're hopeful that she will eventually veto it," said Francis Oda, chairman of the Hawaii Family Forum, which opposes civil unions. "We're praying. That's what we do."
Tambry Young, the lead advocate for Citizens for Equal Rights, which supports the bill, said she is encouraged that Lingle is keeping her options open.
"I want her to do as much as she needs to do to pass this bill," Young said. "That's my main concern. We know she is a governor of the people and we want to stay focused on it being an equal rights issue."
Meanwhile, five more Hawaii Business Roundtable members have distanced themselves from the organization's call to Lingle to veto the civil unions bill. The companies are:
» Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which released a statement yesterday that it did not participate in any discussion regarding the bill.
» Foodland, which said to supporters that it had no part in asking for a veto of the bill.
» Hawaii Pacific Health, which in a letter to civil union supporters said it does not endorse the letter.
» Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals Inc., which sent a letter to Lingle, citing the company's policies on nondiscrimination.
» Kyo-ya Company LLC, which said in a letter to supporters and Lingle that it was "disappointed" with the letter.
Roundtable Executive Director Gary K. Kai sent the veto request to the governor on June 4. He said last week that the executive committee stands by the letter.
Whatever Lingle decides, activists on both sides will likely make civil unions an issue in the September primary and November general election.
State House and Senate leaders said they hoped civil unions, while an important issue, would not be the only issue voters consider.
"I would hope that this never becomes a litmus test for the effectiveness of a legislator," said Oshiro, who is likely facing City Councilman Gary Okino, an opponent of civil unions, in a House primary.
Majority Democrats in the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in private caucuses today to review the governor's veto list.
To the people sending in letters, keep sending them in. To those who haven't - especially those in Hawaii - please do. Ten working days, that's two weeks. Even though it's on her veto list now, it still has a chance of being passed, so keep our fingers crossed.