Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the Civil Union Bill into law Wednesday amidst cheers of enthusiastic supporters.
The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012, is the first legislation signed by the Democratic governor.
"This bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii, everyone who comes here. This is to me the essence of the Aloha spirit," Abercrombie had said at the signing ceremony. "With its signing, I want to say 'welcome' to the world, come to paradise."
The Aloha state in 1998 overwhelmingly passed the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment, which bans same-sex marriage. But gay civil union was still a possibility.
Known for its beaches and resorts, Hawaii is a popular locale for weddings and honeymoons. Businesses anticipate the subsequent rise in the number of same-sex marriages, which may increase revenue for the local tourism industry.
Last week, the state senate had passed the bill with an 18 to 5 vote in favor. The bill had been introduced in the state's House of Representatives in January this year.
Previous attempts to pass a similar civil union bill failed when former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the measure. Lingle, Hawaii's first Republican governor, said that the bill was another name for same-sex marriage.
Bill opponents have pointed out that the new law does not reflect the will of Hawaiians – the majority (70 percent) of whom in 1998 voted to affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Gay and Lesbian advocates won't stop at civil unions, they argued.
"They're really looking for same-sex marriage. We know," said Alan Cardenas Jr. of the Hawaii Family Forum, Hawaii News Now.
"They know it. The people of Hawaii have a right to know it."