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Hawaii Same-Sex Civil Unions Bill Approved By State Legislature
Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie's office said he intends to sign the bill within 10 days, and civil unions would begin Jan. 1, 2012.
"I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha," Abercrombie said in a statement released minutes after Wednesday's vote. "For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawai'i."
The Senate's 18-5 vote came after years of thousands-strong rallies, election battles and passionate public testimony on an issue that has divided the Rainbow State for nearly two decades.
The measure grants gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples.
Hawaii would become the seventh state to grant essentially the same rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.
Five states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
The anxiously awaited civil unions vote came immediately after the Senate confirmed the state's first openly gay Supreme Court justice, Sabrina McKenna.
Gay rights advocates praised the vote as a victory for equal rights in a state known for its diversity and tolerance.
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