Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill allowing civil unions Wednesday, making America's Pacific island paradise the seventh state in the union to grant same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as straight ones.
A crowd of about 150 watched as Abercrombie, a first term Democrat, signed the bill at the Governor's Mansion in Honolulu.
The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2012, allows all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to enter into a civil union—a legal arrangement that will grant the couples all the benefits, rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage.
A similar law enacted by Hawaii lawmakers in 2010 was vetoed by then-Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican.
"For me, this bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii—everyone who comes here," Abercrombie said. "This is, to me, the essence of the aloha spirit."
On the other side of the country, Maryland's senate is expected to take a final vote on a bill legalizing gay marriage in that state Thursday night. A preliminary vote held a week ago was successful. If the bill passes the state's lower house, Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he will sign it.