From the Honolulu Star Advertiser, By B.J. Reyes
The Hawaii Senate took its final step in clearing the way to grant same-sex couples virtually the same rights and privileges of traditional marriage, giving approval today to a bill legalizing civil unions.
Senate Bill 232 was approved by a 18-5 vote.
It now goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who supports civil unions and has promised to sign the bill into law.
"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 after the vote.
"I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii. This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected.
"For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii," Abercrombie said.
Hawaii becomes the seventh state to grant civil unions to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. Five states and Washington, D.C., permit same-sex marriage.
"Today is a momentous day," said Sen. Clayton Hee. "There is no denying that by this action Hawaii takes a significant step towards true equality."
Senate Bill 232 allows all couples -- same-sex and heterosexual -- to enter into a civil union, a legal status with all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities as traditional marriage.
It is largely similar to a bill passed by the Legislature last year but vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who characterized civil unions as same-sex marriage by another name, which she opposed.
With support for the bill in both chambers again this year, lawmakers sought to take advantage of the consensus and fast-track the bill to the governor and move on to more pressing matters.
In addition, Hawaii also made another historic move today. Moments before the historic vote was taken on civil unions, state senators confirmed Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna's appointment to a 10-year term on the Hawaii Supreme Court.