Hawaii's Senate [official website] voted 18-5 [bill history] on Wednesday to give final approval to a bill [SB232, text] that will allow civil unions [JURIST news archive] for same-sex couples. Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) [official profile] must now sign the bill into law within 10 days, and the law could come into effect [CNN report] in January 2012. In a statement [text], Abercrombie said the bill "represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii," adding "I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha." If signed, the bill will not only recognize civil unions, but will also provide partners lawfully entering into them with "all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law" as are granted to individuals entering into marriage. Hawaii's House of Representatives approved the same bill [JURIST report] earlier this week. A similar bill was vetoed [JURIST report] in July by former governor Linda Lingle (R), who felt that, because it was an issue of "such significant societal importance," it was better suited for a vote in a public referendum. Hawaii would be the seventh state to offer essentially the same benefits and protections afforded to marriages to civil unions.
Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed a bill [JURIST report] legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state. The "Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act," seeks to provide "adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union" as well as to provide "persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses." Additionally, it would allow religious institutions within the state to choose whether to observe or officiate the union. Opponents fear that this bill will move Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] and threaten the sanctity of marriage. The new law is set to take effect on June 1. In contrast, last month the Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 in favor of a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] that would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from any jurisdiction. The decision, which was split down party lines, will advance to the state House of Representatives, where it needs a two-thirds vote to succeed. If approved there, it will need to be signed by Governor Matt Mead (R) and then appear as a referendum item on the 2012 ballot. The following day, the House Judiciary Committee also voted 5-4 [Star-Tribune report] to defeat House Bill 150, which would have recognized civil unions in the state.