Hawaii Approves Gay Civil Unions

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Hawaii became the seventh state in the country to approve homosexual civil unions on Wednesday.

Lawmakers approved the bill by a vote of 18 - 5.

Gov. Neil Abercromie plans to sign the measure into law within 10 days. It grants same-sex couples the same rights of marriage without authorizing marriage itself. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Gay rights advocates praised the vote as a victory for equal rights. Opponents say civil unions erode the concept of the traditional family.

For the last 20 years, the Rainbow State has been a battleground on the topic of gay marriage. In 1998, voters overwhelming passed the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment in response to a state Supreme Court decision five years earlier that nearly made Hawaii the first state to legalize gay marriage.

The amendment resulted in a law banning gay marriage in Hawaii but left the door open for civil unions. Since then, 29 other states also have enacted defense of marriage amendments.

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