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Hawaii‘s governor on Wednesday signed into law a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in the state, long popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination and regarded as a pioneer in advancing the cause of gay matrimony.
With the signing by Governor Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii became the 15th U.S. state to legalize marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
The measure, which takes effect on December 2, gained final approval from the Democrat-controlled state legislature on Tuesday, 15 days after the start of a special session called by Abercrombie, a first-term Democrat and former congressman, to consider the bill.
Illinois’ General Assembly beat Hawaii lawmakers to the punch by a week, giving final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on November 5, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is not expected to sign that measure until later this month.
The new Hawaii law rolls back a 1994 statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Moments before signing, Abercrombie spoke about how, despite misgivings by opponents who felt their religious beliefs were infringed, the measure served the “greater good” by more fully embracing gay and lesbian members of society, who had long felt marginalized.
“Now all those who have been invisible will be visible to themselves and the world,” the governor said before sitting down at a table to affix his signature to the law with a single pen, as supporters in the room erupted in cheers.
The path to legal gay marriage in Hawaii has been long and bumpy.
The state’s Supreme Court ruled 20 years ago that barring same-sex nuptials was discriminatory, in a landmark opinion that advanced the cause of gay marriage nationwide but sparked a backlash that has until now kept matrimony limited to heterosexual couples in Hawaii.
Amended in the state House of Representatives last week to strengthen exemptions for clergy and religious groups, the measure cleared the Senate, 19-4, on Tuesday, with the body’s lone Republican joining three Democrats in opposing it. Two other Democrats were absent.
The House had passed the bill, 30-19, with the support of just one of that chamber’s seven Republicans. Thirteen Democrats voted against it.
The move to lift Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriage comes at a time of growing momentum for gay rights in the courts, at the ballot box and in statehouses across the United States.
The trend has gained steam since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that married same-sex couples are eligible for federal benefits, striking down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.
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