If Hawaii approves civil unions, a flood of same-sex couples are likely to register for the partnership, according to a national policy think-tank expert.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are far more attractive to couples than reciprocal beneficiary relationships, which offer only limited rights and benefits said Brad Sears, executive director of the Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law.

“In states like California and Vermont that passed laws similar to civil union laws, we have seen the percentage of couples registering surpassing 50 percent very quickly, within the first three years,” Sears said.

State-approved recognition matters to couples, with civil unions and domestic partnerships seen as giving them all the rights of marriage, he said. By contrast, Hawaii’s reciprocal beneficiaries registration, with its limited range of rights and benefits, is less desirable.

According to a 2008 Williams Institute study, in the 11 years since 1997 that Hawaii has offered reciprocal beneficiary status, only 1,488 couples have registered. About 20 percent of the couples are from out of state.

“That’s really very few,” said Sears. “So, one thing we do expect with Hawaii is there should be a lot more couples registering for civil unions. There’s an excitement about it.”

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