Hawaii’s governor Linda Lingle has rejected a bill which would have allowed civil unions for gay couples in the state.

The bill would have given both straight and gay couples the right to have their partnerships recognised with all the rights of marriage.

In a statement, Ms Lingle said she thought the bill was “essentially same-sex marriage by another name” and added that the decision was “so important it should be decided by the people”.

Although the legislature easily passed the bill, Ms Lingle gave no indication until now whether or not she would sign it.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii have said they will sue the state and have readied a lawsuit.

Laurie Temple, staff attorney for the ACLU, said: “We’re obviously disappointed that Governor Lingle has, once again, used her power to deny the people of Hawaii their civil rights.

“Luckily for the people of Hawaii, however, our constitution prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation. If the governor won’t honor her oath to uphold the constitution, the courts will.”

Gay campaigners are urging the legislature to override the veto, but the bill was not passed with a veto-proof majority.