Gov. Neil Abercrombie, proclaiming that diversity defines rather than divides people of the state, signed a bill into law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples beginning next year.
The measure that confers some of the legal and economic benefits on that apply to husbands and wives or spouses in a legal marital relationship to partners in a civil union was signed in a ceremony at Washington Place Wednesday afternoon.
“The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents in my might equal rights for all people,” said Abercrombie as he prepared to make the bill, SB232, the first act he has signed into law since taking office in December.
The measure takes effect on Jan. 1, 2012 but it was years in the making and is becoming law as some continue to protest civil unions.
The governor acknowledged the issue had been an emotional one, but reiterated that he believed all viewpoints had been considered. He thanked everyone for sharing their time and concerns.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle had vetoed a similar bill last year, and legislators made passing the measure one of their priority items when opening the session last month. As in the past, the measure was hotly debated as it moved through Capitol.
Abercrombie’s office had testified in favor the bill, as did the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii, several unions, and gay rights groups.
Testifying against the law were Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, Hawaii Family Forum, Hawaii Catholic Conference, Pro-Family Hawaii, and a large number of individuals.
The mood at Washington Place was one of celebration as proponents of the measure gathered. But elsewhere opponents said they believed passage and signing of the measure was wrong.
Sen. Mike Gabbbard, a long-time opponent of such laws, said it was a sad day for people of the state.
“Politicians have shown that they just don’t care about the views and values of the majority of Hawaii’s residents,” Gabbard said in a statement his office released.
“Civil unions is same-sex marriage with a different name.”
He said state residents had clearly said they’re against civil unions and same-sex marriage.
“The politicians have basically said ‘To hell with you.'”
Hawaii becomes one of 14 states and Washington, D.C. with laws that provide an “expansive” form of relationship recognition for lesbian and gay couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that works on equality issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The group says Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C. provide marriage to same-sex couples under state law. and that New York and Maryland recognize out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages, but do not provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples in state.
California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington —provide same-sex couples with access to almost all of the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships, Human Rights Campaign said. It says a new law providing for civil unions in Illinois will take effect on June 1st.