February 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Hawaii governor signs civil unions bill

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) on Wednesday signed legislation that will legalize civil unions in the Aloha State.

In a statement, Abercrombie said the passage of a civil unions measure was “long overdue” and “a prime example of exercising civic courage.”

“Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha,” Abercrombie said.

The bill signing ceremony took place Wednesday afternoon at Washington Place in Honolulu, Hawaii, among key lawmakers and about 100 invited guests who helped move the measure through the Legislature.

The law, which will take effect on Jan. 1, will make civil unions with the same legal benefits of marriage available to same-sex couples in the Aloha State.

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Senate passed the civil unions bill in its amended form by a vote of 18-5. The House had already approved the legislation last week by a vote of 31-19.

Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, said the signing of the legislation marks a “truly momentous day in Hawaii and a great step forward in our struggle towards full equality.”

“After nearly two decades of debate and sometimes hostile rhetoric, the people of Hawaii have spoken loud and clear, and their words ring true with hope and optimism,” Spector said.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Abercrombie has been “a stalwart advocate” for many years.

“Today he fulfills a major campaign promise to lay the issue of civil unions to rest, and finally provide equal rights and responsibilities to thousands of same-sex families in the Aloha State,” Solmonese said.

Hawaii has a historic place in the struggle to advance relationship recognition for same-sex couples. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued its landmark decision finding a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples, making the state the first ever to discover the right.

But that ruling was overtuned in 1998, when a constitutional amendment giving the legislature the authority to restrict marriage to one man and one woman was approved by referendum. The legislature subsequently acted on its authority to ban same-sex marriage.

Last year, the Hawaii Legislature passed an earlier version of civil unions legislation, but the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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