Hawaii's Long Wait for Marriage Equality Has Ended

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a new version of the legislation that the governor is set to sign today.

BY Trudy Ring

November 12 2013 2:17 PM ET UPDATED: January 07 2014 5:44 PM ET

Hawaii legislators gave final approval to a marriage equality bill on Tuesday, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie will sign it at noon Pacific today — ending what has been one of the longest journeys for marriage equality so far. Watch the signing ceremony live at noon Pacific, 3 p.m. Eastern, and 10 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian time, here

“After 20 years of work to win the state where it all started, the Hawaii freedom to marry victory today is especially sweet," said Evan Wolfson in a statement. He's founder and president of the national group Freedom to Marry who as a lawyer with Lambda Legal argued for marriage equality in a 1990s lawsuit. Wolfson said the wait "shows how far we have come."

"The same legislature that in the 1990s passed the first of the antigay constitutional amendments now voted resoundingly for the freedom to marry," he said. "Like the millions of Americans who have evolved to become the national majority for marriage, Hawaii's leaders opened their hearts and changed their minds."

The state Senate, which earlier passed one version of the bill, on Tuesday voted 19-4 to pass a new version that contains amendments added by the state House last week, with two senators excused, the Associated Press reports. The amendments delayed the bill’s effective date and slightly broadened its religious exemption, and the House passed the measure Friday by a 30-19 margin. Abercrombie has said he will sign the legislation as amended.

A majority of senators spoke favorably of the legislation during Tuesday's debate, according to the AP. "This is nothing more than the expansion of aloha in Hawaii," said Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat from Maui.

Praise for the vote came from far and wide, including from the White House, with President Obama releasing the following statement: "I want to congratulate the Hawaii State Legislature on passing legislation in support of marriage equality.  With today’s vote, Hawaii joins a growing number of states that recognize that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated fairly and equally under the law.  Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger.  By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation.  I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder.  And Michelle and I extend our best wishes to all those in Hawaii whose families will now be given the security and respect they deserve."

The governor wants the ceremony to be small and not a “spectacle,” so attendance will be limited to about 200 invited guests, reports regional news source Hawaii News Now.

“We’re going to make it as broad as possible for all of the key advocates that have been working on this for a long time, but at the same time we are going to be having some security measures to make sure that the event remains consistent with the celebratory mood of what the governor wants,” Blake Oshiro, deputy chief of staff for Abercrombie, told Hawaii News Now before the vote.

The law is set to go into effect December 2. Civil unions, which Hawaii has offered to same-sex couples since January 1, 2012, can be converted to marriages through an online procedure.

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