The Hawaiian legislature passed civil unions and the bill goes to the governor to sign, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 31-20.
The governor, Linda Lingle, has not said whether or not she will sign the bill into law.
Lingle is Republican but she is also Jewish. While Reform Judaism accepts same-sex marriages (as do many Conservative rabbis) and Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, Lingle belongs to a small Orthodox congregation. Orthodox generally do not recognize same-sex marriages.
If signed into law, the effective date is Jan. 1, 2010 because supporters expected the bill to pass last year. So civil unions would begin immediately.
Lingle has 45 days to sign the bill. The House vote was not enough to override a veto.
The same-sex marriage issue began in Hawaii. In 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry was discriminatory. The state was poised to pass same-sex marriage when they changed their state constitution.
Other states that allow same-sex civil unions that are supposed to be equivalent to opposite-sex marriage are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington state. Five states — Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa — and the District of Columbia have marriage equality.