Hawaii governor signs same-sex marriage bill into law

Becomes the 15th state to legalize same-sex unions

Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate while the Hawaii State Senate convenes to approve the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, on Tuesday Nov. 12, 2013, in Honolulu.
Hugh Gentry/Reuters

Hawaii's Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a bill on Wednesday that makes Hawaii the 15th state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage.

The signiature comes on the heels of the Hawaii Senate's overwhelming approval of the bill on Tuesday, which was met with cheers from hundreds of gay rights supporters outside the Senate building in Honolulu.

The measured cleared the state Senate on a 19-4 vote.

"In Hawaii, we believe in fairness, justice and human equality," Gov. Abercrombie said Tuesday after the state Senate passed the gay marriage bill. "Today, we celebrate our diversity defining us rather than dividing us."

As passed, the bill would take effect on Dec. 2.

President Barack Obama sent a statement of congratulations to the state where he was born on Tuesday night.

“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,” he said. “I've always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today's vote makes me even prouder.”

The measure easily cleared the Senate in Hawaii, with the body's lone Republican joining three Democrats in opposing the bill. Two other Democrats were absent.

Hawaii has been on the forefront of gay rights issues for years. The state's supreme court ruled two decades ago that barring same-sex marriage was discriminatory. It was a landmark opinion that propelled the gay rights movement nationwide, but it also sparked backlash that has kept marriage limited to heterosexual couples until now.

The ruling could also be a huge economic boon to Hawaii, where marriages make up a significant part of its tourism revenue.

An estimate from a researcher at the University of Hawaii says the law will boost tourism by $217 million over the next three years, as Hawaii becomes an outlet for couples in other states, bringing ceremonies, receptions and honeymoons to the islands.

The vote comes at a time of increasing momentum for gay marriage in U.S. courts, at the ballot box and statehouses across the country.

Only six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage a year ago, but the number has more than doubled since, due in most cases to litigation over the issue.

Three states – Maine, Maryland and Washington – became the first to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with passage of ballot initiatives last November.

Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped his legal opposition to gay marriage, making his state the 14th to legalize same-sex weddings.

Illinois lawmakers gave final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on Nov. 5, and Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign that measure into law later this month.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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