Hawaii became the seventh state in the country to offer nearly all the same rights and benefits as rights and benefits as marriage to same-sex couples.

Before a large and enthusiastic gathering of civil rights supporters at Washington Place, Gov. Neil Abercrombie made good on a campaign pledge to sign a civil unions bill into law.

Senate Bill 232, which will be known as Act 1, makes same-sex and opposite-sex couples eligible for civil unions recognition beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

Five other state governments offer same-sex marriage.

The bill’s passage follows a heated debate last legislative session. On April 29 last year, in the very last moments of the very last day of the 2010 Hawaii Legislature, the state House unexpectedly passed on a 31-20 vote House bill 444, legalizing civil unions.

The vote angered opponents of the measure, who argued they had been blindsided. Supporters, of course, were thrilled, as civil unions had been judged dead three months earlier when the House declined to accept the Senate’s amended version.

What followed was a dramatic buildup to HB 444’s veto by former Gov. Linda Lingle and the elevation of civil unions as a central issue in fall elections.

What a difference a year makes.

Story to follow. Read up about the history of the bill here.

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