The Hawaii House of Representatives [official website] voted 31-20 Thursday to approve legislation [HB 444 text, PDF] allowing same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The act would confer upon homosexual and heterosexual couples rights and benefits equal to those afforded married couples in the state. The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Senate [official website] in January, but the House vote was postponed indefinitely [JURIST report]. The bill will now go before Governor Linda Lingle (R) [official website], who has not yet indicated [Honolulu Advertiser report] whether she will sign it into law. She has until July 6 to reach a decision.
The state of Hawaii has been at the forefront of the gay rights movement since the 1990s [timeline]. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court [official website] ruled [case backgrounder] that the state must show a compelling reason to deny same-sex marriage, but, in 1998, Hawaiian voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to reserve for the state legislature the authority to define marriage. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire, and Washington DC [JURIST reports]. Same-sex civil unions are currently recognized in Washington, New Jersey, Oregon, and Nevada [JURIST reports].