Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions into law, granting the state's homosexuals the same rights as married couples.
"This signing today of this measure says to all the world that they are welcome, that everyone is a brother or a sister in paradise," Abercrombie said Wednesday.
"The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represents in my mind, equal rights," he added. On Feb. 16, the state legislature approved the measure in a 18-5 vote.
The Rainbow State has been a key battleground for gay rights activists for 20 years. 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.
The new civil union law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, making Hawaii the seventh state to allow such unions. Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.