Politicians in the state of Hawaii have passed bill legalising civil unions for same-sex couples late last night, with the Senate voting 18-5 in favour. The bill has been passed to Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie to sign into law, he has already signaled that he supports the measure.
The unions will give same-sex couples the same rights as married couples, but it bypasses the defence of marriage amendment to the constitution enacted in 1998.
Hawaii was the first state in the US to enact a defence of marriage act, but it was the only state that only granted power to the state to ban marriage, rather than officially banning marriage itself, and did not include civil unions.
29 states have since enacted a defence of marriage amendment that bans gay marriage, and 19 of those also ban civil unions.
A civil unions bill failed in Hawaii last year when the then-governor Linda Lingle vetoed it. She compared civil unions to allowing siblings to marry.
The legislation will give gay couples almost all of the rights of marriage.
Religious campaigners have objected to the bill, with Allen Cardines Jr of the Hawaii Family Forum calling them a “dishonest attempt” to legalise gay marriage.
“They will not stop here with civil unions,” he said. “They’re really looking for same sex marriage. They know it; we know it; the people of Hawaii deserve to know it.”
Supporters of the bill argued that it would protect families and reduce homophobia, although some argued that civil unions were a “half measure”, compared to marriage.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington DC all offer full same sex marriage. New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland recognise same sex marriages performed in other states. California briefly held gay marriages and there is an ongoing legal battle to reinstate them.
Illinois and New Jersey also have civil unions. Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, Maine, Wisconsin and the state of Washington extend some of the rights of married couples to gay relationships through domestic partnership laws.