(Photo: AP Images / Eugene Tanner)
The Hawaii Senate passed on Wednesday a bill that would legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.
The legislation passed with an 18-5 vote and now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie
If signed, Hawaii would become the seventh state to extend the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to gay and lesbian partners in a civil union.
Opponents of same-sex unions have been hard at work for years to preserve traditional marriage in the Aloha State. They have contended that a measure allowing civil unions for same-sex couples undermines the institution of marriage and the will of the Hawaii people, who in 1998 voted 70 to 30 percent to affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The push by gay rights advocates won't stop at civil unions, they argued.
"They're really looking for same-sex marriage. We know," Alan Cardenas Jr. of the Hawaii Family Forum told Hawaii News Now. "They know it. The people of Hawaii have a right to know it."
An earlier attempt by state lawmakers to pass a same-sex civil unions bill failed when then Governor Linda Lingle vetoed the measure last year.
Lingle, the first Republican governor of Hawaii, acknowledged the depth of emotion tied to the issue and observed how fundamental the institution of marriage was to the community. With that, she refused to allow a small group of elected officials make the decision on gay civil unions.
The measure currently before Gov. Abercrombie was introduced in January and passed by the House last week.
If signed, the measure takes effect January 1, 2012.