After a long battle, today the Hawaii Legislature finally approved a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. Governor Neil Abercrombie says he plans to sign the bill within 10 days, making Hawaii the seventh state to grant gay couples essentially the same rights as married couples, without actually using the word "marriage."
For those keeping score, five states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriage, but just legalizing civil unions has been a struggle in Hawaii. According to the Associated Press, the fight for gay rights first came to a head in the state in 1993, when the state Supreme Court nearly legalized gay marriage. Five years later, the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment passed in Hawaii with 69 percent of the vote. Just last year, the Hawaii Legislature passed a similar bill that would have granted gay couples the same rights as married people, but Republican Governor Linda Lingle vetoed it.
Today the Senate's passed the bill 18-5 in a vote that came immediately after Sabrina McKenna, Hawaii's first openly gay Supreme Court Justice, was confirmed. Reuters reports that residents for and against gay rights were in the gallery, and after the vote those supporting civil unions started cheering and clapping. Governor Abercrombie issued this statement:
I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha ... For me this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.
Once he signs the bill into law, gay couples will be allowed to start having civil unions on January 1, 2012.
Earlier: Hawaii To OK Same-Sex Civil Unions?