Hawaii legislature gives final nod to legalizing gay marriage

Hawaii legislature gives final nod to legalizing gay marriage

HONOLULU - The Hawaii Senate gave final legislative approval on Tuesday to a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in a state popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination and regarded as a pioneer in advancing the cause of gay matrimony.

The measure cleared the Democratic-controlled state Senate on a 19-4 vote to cheers and applause from hundreds of supporters in flowered garland leis who filled the visitor galleries and the Capitol rotunda.

Hundreds more danced for joy on the sidewalks in front of the Capitol building.

Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who called a special session to consider the bill, is expected to sign it into law on Wednesday, an aide to the governor said. That would make Hawaii the 15th US state to legalize gay marriage.

The measure, set to take effect on Dec 2, rolls back a 1994 statute defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, hailed passage of the bill in a statement.

"Whenever freedom and equality are affirmed, our country becomes stronger," said Obama, the first US president to support gay marriage. "By giving loving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry if they choose, Hawaii exemplifies the values we hold dear as a nation."

Amended in the state House of Representatives last week to strengthen exemptions for clergy and religious groups, the measure easily cleared the Senate with the body's lone Republican joining three Democrats in opposing it. Two other Democrats were absent.

The path to legal gay marriage in Hawaii has been long and bumpy. The state's Supreme Court ruled two decades ago that barring same-sex nuptials was discriminatory in a landmark opinion that propelled the gay rights movement nationwide.

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